How the housing shortage affects rural Siskiyou County, too: ‘They cannot afford the prices’

Skip Descant
Special to the Siskiyou Daily News
Quaint historic homes line Miner Street Park in downtown Yreka. The city is in the early stages of an update to the “housing element” for its general plan. The city is holding a range workshops in 2022 to hear from residents about housing concerns and how to make housing more accessible for more people.

Housing stock in rural Siskiyou County tends to be older and fewer than what’s needed to adequately serve the region.

“As we look at all of those numbers it points to an unmet need of just over 2,000 — about 2,3000 — affordable housing units are for renters that are actually needed to address the housing costs burden, and address the number of low-income households,” said Sherry Morgado, a community development manager with Housing Tools, a housing consultant firm conducting a housing analysis for Siskiyou County, as part of its update to the general plan.

Morgado was leading a virtual workshop on Wednesday, April 27 to hear from county residents regarding the state of housing in unincorporated parts of Siskiyou County. Residents and county officials attending the meeting reported a need for more affordability in the county, and more rental stock.

In many ways, the concerns were not unlike the concerns expressed by residents living in Siskiyou’s incorporated cities like Yreka, which is also in the middle of a housing analysis as the city updates its general plan.

“A lot of housing has gotten outpaced for people to have affordable housing,” remarked Terri Mazingo, a real estate broker in Mount Shasta.

Older, poorer residents living in more rural areas

Statistics show residents living in some of the more rural areas of the county tend to be older and poorer than those living in other areas. Also, the households are small — one to two people, generally.

“It sounds like it’s really important that there’s low-income housing, and it sounds like smaller units, whatever that looks like,” said Sarah Collard, director of the Health and Human Services Agency in Siskiyou County. “Affordability is really the key. So any kind of housing that’s affordable to the community is important."

Duplexes like these are common in Yreka.

An analysis of housing in unincorporated areas shows 31% of all households are earning less than $35,000 annually, and 23% of all households are earning less than $25,000 annually.

“So a significant portion of the population is low-income, and a significant portion of them are renter households,” said Morgado.

Also, about 45% of the unincorporated population of the county is 55 years old or older. And 20% of the population has a disability.

Need for home improvements 

Housing construction slowed considerably from 2010 to 2021 in rural Siskiyou County, with only 2.8% of all housing units constructed during this time.

“For comparison, 46% of all housing units in the unincorporated county were constructed from 1980 to 2009. So basically, this points to an aging housing stock that may be in need of rehabilitation,” said Macado.

All of these realities fly in the face of another peculiar housing trend, showing a vacancy rate in the rural areas of the county at 23.2%. Seventy percent of these vacancies are due to seasonal or recreational uses.

Mt. Shasta looms in the background at a home for sale in Mount Shasta on Jan. 24, 2022.

This suggests that when the county is considering public policy to help spur the development of more housing in unincorporated areas, officials may not need to place vacation rentals and second homes at the top of the list. In fact, Nancy Ogren, a Siskiyou County supervisor representing District 4, which includes Yreka, said there’s a definite need for housing to serve seasonal workers coming into the area during fire season and other periods.

“That’s a real issue in places like McCloud, Happy Camp, where these people work in the woods all the time and really have difficulty finding places to live,” said Ogren.

The housing analysis reveals trends familiar across the county and state, which shows rising housing costs, coupled with little supply.

The typical home value for Yreka is $239,238, according to Zillow, up 21% in the last year. To afford a median priced home in Yreka, a household needs an income $110,000 annually, according to Plan West Partners, the firm leading the housing analysis in Yreka.

Residents have implored city leaders to attract more business and industry to the region to provide the sort of jobs to support rising housing and other costs.

“Affordable and useful housing is necessary within the county. However, how can this be achieved without the support of industry?” wondered Carol Van Blarcom, in one of her comments during the virtual meeting to discuss housing in the unincorporated areas of the county.

“Many of the people that I have talked to about this are young families that want to be able to purchase their own home. However, they cannot afford the prices as they stand right now as many of the jobs are not paying at that rate. They struggle to pay their bills and cannot afford the prices.”

Skip Descant is a freelance journalist. He’s written for newspapers in California, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. He lives in downtown Yreka.