The housing crisis: an upscale community problem too

- Not enough homes and apartments, plus not enough pay, is working a real dysfunction even in tonier communities. It's a problem confronting the increasing number of so-called upscale communities.

Walnut Creek's median house price is about $900,000 and rising quickly. Example, Stoneyridge, a community of attached homes is selling units in, get this, in the low millions. The average rental is $2,257 with the average 3 bedroom unit going for about $3,700, almost $4,200 in the best areas, especially close to BART. 

That's great for developers, current homeowners and landlords, but trouble for Walnut Creek.

Merchants are having big trouble finding people willing to commute here for relatively low paying jobs.

Even well paid skilled workers, for example, at John Muir Medical Center, often pass on such jobs due to high housing and living costs.

"So, you have folks at both ends starting to get squeezed. The tipping point is not far away," said Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce President Jay Hoyer. High housing prices often affect health.

"We're finding that many people are not taking medications because they cannot afford the medications because they have to pay their rent.," said Stephanie Merrill of John Muir Health.

One possible solution, build more living units in buildings far higher than city rules currently allow. "It's really a community decision and where is the best location for these infill development projects. What's that gonna look like as far as design components. What's the height gonna be?" asked Walnut Creek

Associate City Planner Ozzy Arce. Without building a lot more housing, the turnover in current home ownership guarantees low inventories, causing prices to keep rising. 

One relief valve, came yesterday, as Viamonte Walnut Creek broke ground for a senior community already 80% leased out. "What they're buying  is a contract of care that allows them to stay here for the rest of their lives," said Viamonte Senior Living CEO David Berg.

"The fee structure enables them to take advantage of the equity in their home and pay about what they're spending on a monthly basis to live in their own homes,"said developer executive 
Barry Johnson.

Here, seniors of means can lease a place the size they want, often using the proceeds from the sale of their former homes to finance it. That's puts more under utilized senior citizen owned homes on the market.

"We're getting old. I'm 75. We don't have children, So we need a place to go," said Viamonte client Ray Greenleaf. "We're fine right now. We're independent and we're mobile and we can go large distances to enjoy our friends but things will probably be changing as the years go by," said Greenleaf's wife Victoria.

For Walnut Creek, the issue is long term sustainability, because housing, at these prices, is working against that. Walnut Creek, like so many California cities and towns, is not alone.

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