It’s an irony Steve PonTell admitted with exasperation — it’s easier for a billionaire to build a NFL stadium than it is to build an affordable housing project.
PonTell, one of the nation’s largest non-profit affordable housing developers, contends the cost of producing housing has become greatly distorted. As a result, affordable housing for the middle class has reached crisis levels which threaten to destroy our communities. “Nobody is taking it seriously or dealing with it on the scale it needs to be dealt with,” PonTell said. “If we don’t, soon the ripple effects will become greater and greater.”
The CEO and President of Rancho Cucamonga-based National Community Renaissance discussed the affordable housing shortage crisis of as part of the continuing Randall Lewis Seminar Series presented by the UC Riverside School of Public Policy’s Center for Sustainable Suburban Development.
PonTell explained to Ron Loveridge, the director of the CSSD and former Riverside Mayor, that people really don’t think we have a housing problem because prices were so dramatically adjusted downward after the recent crash. PonTell added we have not built an adequate supply of housing for the people living in Southern California today which creates significant overcrowding throughout the region. Overcrowding, in turn, leads to everything deteriorating faster – such as roads or sewer systems — than what they what they were designed to handle.
“The inland region has been the ‘housing answer’ for what I call the irresponsibility of the coastal region not adequately housing the population for the economies they’ve grown,” PonTell said. Yet the Big Bear Lake native has noticed that even Inland Empire elected leaders have started to grow weary of “affordable housing” projects.
Politicians in general, he said, consider affordable housing a net cost to their community rather than a positive asset which generates tax revenues to cover an increasing demand for public services.
Los Angeles County residents spend an average of 50-percent of their income on housing instead of the standard 30-percent. Orange County, PonTell said, is aging in place because so few of the children who grew up in the OC can afford their parents’ home. “That kind of distortion means the quality of life and other opportunities are seriously diminished.”
The affordability crisis in L.A. and Orange Counties also represents a huge economic development opportunity for the inland region to continue to create high quality neighborhoods where people want to live. He pointed to Eastvale in Riverside County. “It’s off the chart in attracting Orange County executives who can’t afford ‘OC’ but they want quality schools, housing and neighborhoods, and the jobs will follow that,” PonTell said.
So, he added, housing is a fundamental cornerstone for our own development. “If there is any hope for a middle class in southern California, it’s the inland region.”
To make affordable housing a priority among residents, the various interest groups and elected leaders, PonTell said we must destroy the array of myths about affordable housing. Fragmented advocacy groups must come together. Elected officials must be cultivated to be champions of affordable housing. We must also keep an honest conversation about the issue alive.
“Food and shelter are two basic needs. We as a society are just highly irresponsible in creating policy framework that does not allow the shelter part of that equation to be met,” PonTell said. “People need housing. Let’s figure it out.”
BYLINE: KJ THOMAS
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