The Issue: South Siskiyou has a housing shortage, especially rentals. Local Impact: A Mount Shasta City Council committee is working on a preliminary study in hopes of finding possible solutions.
“It’s common knowledge that we have a critical shortage of housing for people who come to work here,” says Mount Shasta Mayor Kathy Morter. “Even our current city manager and city planner were lucky to find places to rent. The current housing crunch is an impediment to economic development. We need to be able to house the people who want to work here.”
Every day, according to a 2014 U.S. Census study, nearly 1,400 commuters drive into Mount Shasta to their jobs; some of these folks would no doubt prefer a shorter commute – if more housing were available in the town.
Mount Shasta’s City Council recently created a Housing Discovery Committee to look into possible solutions to the city’s housing crunch. Its members are Morter, council member Paul Engstrom, and city planner Juliana Lucchesi.
The housing shortage isn’t limited to Mount Shasta. It sprawls across South Siskiyou County. It was exacerbated by the 2014 Boles Fire, which took out 143 homes in Weed. Rental properties there took the biggest hit. Very few of those have been replaced, and efforts to find developers to build new rental housing have not been successful so far, according to Weed City Manager Ron Stock.
So the housing shortage, especially in rentals, continues. Sandra Haugen, who manages 186 rental units in the south county, says she currently has only about half a dozen of them vacant right now. Realtor Jeannine Tobey, who manages 18 rental units in Dunsmuir, had only one available as of last week.
Gina Flores spent two years looking for a rental house in Dunsmuir large enough for her growing family. She found nothing larger than a two-bedroom until she got lucky: A friend’s family recently moved out of their three-bedroom and rented it to Flores.
The housing market in Dunsmuir is so tight and places are getting snatched up so quickly that prospective renters are having to rely on word of mouth to find a place, rather than waiting for the property to get listed, according to Flores.
Cassie Hansen, a staffer at Dunsmuir’s FireWhat company, said she had a waiting list of 10 people as soon as she listed her house for rent on social media.
Unlike Mount Shasta, Dunsmuir has not yet launched an organized effort to deal with its own housing crunch. There is a glimmer of hope, however, in the form of a crumbling old motel, The House Of Glass, on the north end of town. It’s up for sale, and city leaders are hoping a new owner can convert it to small units of affordable housing. That’s already happened with two other former motels also at the north end of town.
Meanwhile, the Mount Shasta effort is just getting underway. Lucchesi sums it up as an “exploratory” study of the “existing barriers to building more housing units and figuring out how to make it easier to build those units.”
As part of that effort, the committee will talk to owners of vacant properties in the town, and ask them what incentives they need to build housing on them.
Morter says the committee will be looking at potential “constraints” on the creation of new housing that include zoning regulations, planning and permit approval processes, and fees charged for connecting to utilities.
“There have been complaints in the past by developers that it’s hard to deal with the city as far as getting building permits and getting information in general, so that’s something we need to look at,” said committee member Engstrom.
There’s been one positive development recently that could increase the stock of rental housing in our area: A new state law has made it easier for property owners to build and rent out small accessory dwellings, otherwise known as “mother-in-law cottages.”
According to Morter, the housing committee hopes to complete its preliminary study of the scope of the housing shortage in Mount Shasta by November and then move on to look at possible solutions.