Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Home Sweet Home

In Laguna, we rate our homes by their connection with the ocean. An ocean view is good, a white-water view better, with beach access especially prized. Land-locked cities have other criteria but one thing stands out—across the country a strong majority want a single-family home. We have my childhood home in Sacramento up for rent. It’s been a rare look into the struggle for housing. 

Not everyone wants that single-family home—nearly one-fifth are happy in their condos or apartments, according to Builder Magazine. But of the 80 percent looking for the privacy and space of a home, just 70 percent of the total have found it. That leaves a lot of families struggling to get into a home, as renters or owners. It’s the American dream, but the cost keeps rising.

By offering our home for rent we’ve met those dreamers and felt their pathos. They aren’t your college-educated professionals; those people have their homes. The people we’re seeing have humbler origins. They do the work that keeps America moving; many get their hands dirty. Some speak with accents. They struggle to pay the bills and provide for their children. And they dream.

The demand for housing rises steadily with population growth. The supply of new homes lurches between housing booms and busts. Prices have been increasing since the 2006-2008 bubble collapse. The pandemic brought an unexpected price surge that makes homeownership even more precious and causes dreams to fade.

On the plus side, our legislators have passed some exceptionally wise laws that encourage home owners to help. People can build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) if they have space on their property. These used to be called “granny flats,” we have a number of them in Laguna, not all legal. Now they can be.

ADUs are smaller—up to 500 square feet if attached to a home, up to 1,200 square feet if detached—but they fit our greatest need, housing at the bottom of the market for the least among us. It seems a most promising development for the housing market.

The homes in our old neighborhood are on large lots, a practice less common today. The neighborhood could comfortably provide many more housing units. It’s encouraging the legislators have provided a path to smaller, more affordable housing where the need is greatest.

We’ve seen another interesting trend: Families are coming back together to share costs. The well-to-do have done nicely in the new century. The less wealthy not so much. Though inflation has been modest, it has been steady and spending power has declined for the humblest. We’re seeing three-generation families, and siblings coming together to combine their resources. It’s as though they sense a coming economic storm. I’m intrigued by their prudent preparation.

In all this I find reason for hope. More helpful laws. Families working together. Better use of existing developed land. Amidst the chaos and pathos people are finding solutions. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip.  He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.”  Email:  [email protected]

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