Inside Tuolumne Co. Gov Housing Issues
This is the sixth in a series of discussions about Local Government. The last dealt with economic development and its key role in determining the County’s tax base which, in turn, determines the resources the County has available to meet the needs of our Community. This discussion will focus on our housing market and how it impacts our ability to attract and retain a productive and effective private sector work force. Tuolumne County is slowly growing in population. The overall numbers often quoted don’t mention that they include the incarcerated population at the Sierra Conservation Center whose numbers have been steadily declining about 100-150 prisoners on average per year since the AB 109 Justice Realignment of 2011. The result is a similar increase in the year-to-year estimates of our non-incarcerated population. As our workforce grows, it is steadily shifting to a younger demographic. Our construction of homes has not kept pace with the demand, especially in certain critical sectors of the marketplace that are in that emerging demographic.
Our emerging workforce is characterized more by, young technical and professional employees resulting from an increase in e-commuting and growth in several of our major employment sectors, most notably, the increased services provided by Adventist Health Sonora. This workforce is demographically dissimilar to many of our traditional employees in significant ways. They often come to us as external hires early in their employment life. Their needs and wants in housing are different than our traditional workforce. They are often at an entry salary or wage level and they are not always committed to a specific long-term career path or a long-term home. Many are not ready for home ownership and are looking for rental workforce housing that will allow them their desired professional and social mobility while providing suitable living conditions.
Tuolumne has limited availability of such housing and that is significantly impacting businesses that wish to locate and/or grow here to attract and retain the talent they need to succeed in providing necessary products and services to our residents. If you are either retired or semi-retired, have workable retirement income and wanting to live comfortably on an acre or a few you can probably find suitable property to own. If you are a little bit more “retired” and either want or need a more supportive daily living environment, your needs can probably be met as well. If you are a young technical or professional person starting out in life and looking to maintain a semblance of professional and social mobility yet wanting decent, affordable, low maintenance rental property, not so much. Businesses that spend money on recruitment of young talent experience a significant risk of not being able to hire or alternatively losing the hired talent after their initial hiring commitment or immediate project is complete due largely to not finding suitable housing. Businesses in this county become the training ground for talent for other locations throughout the State and we never fully realize the benefits of their training investment. Necessarily, much of the services the County provides are either supplemented by or in partnership with our private sector. The result is a decrease in both quality and quantity of services available to our residents.
To grow our local economy and correspondingly our tax base to meet the rising costs of maintaining County services, we need to address the housing shortfall issue in the most critical sectors. The alternative is tax increases, and few favors that. To some development is a dirty word. However, if you have a housing shortfall, development is the only way to address that. The largest shortfall in housing is in the small lot or high-density rental property sector. This is the most aggressively opposed type of development in this County. If we want our economy to grow and hopefully thrive, we need to come together and change that philosophy.
This series of blogs has attempted to present some of the major issues that impact how the county does the business of our people. Are there others that could have been included? Certainly, but attention spans wane. The final segment will attempt to tie all the previous six segments together to illustrate some of the most important issues your County Government deals with daily