Last summer the Enterprise covered the shrinking availability of affordable housing in Calaveras County as housing prices continued to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. We began looking into the market once again in January, spoke with members of the real estate business, and asked what the local government is doing to address the ever-growing housing shortage.

We started with Berry Ward, who owns Barry Ward Realty in Arnold and who spoke with the Enterprise last summer about the state of the county’s real estate market.

When asked what has changed since then, he said, “The inventories tightened up even more. The area I gauge is like Dorrington to Arnold, it's just kind of our immediate area. We had a low of 14 properties at our real peak point in the summer, and then we built back up to about 59 properties. Now they’re sold off, and there are only six available in all price ranges.”

He explained that in his 45 years in the Calaveras County real estate business, he has never seen that particular area with such low housing inventory.

Ward explained that the winter months are usually slower due to many sellers pulling their homes off the market. Sellers do not want to deal with the hassle of selling a home during the holidays and in his area's case, the heavy snow.

“Even though inventory is always on the lower side in the winter, I've never seen it this low—and we still have buyers. Buyers are still very active. I think the trend is interest rates are probably going to be heading north, which will make them [houses] less affordable. So you have buyers probably trying to jump in for that reason,” said Ward.

Surprisingly, the uptick in wildfires has not affected the real estate market in Calaveras County beyond making insurance more expensive, according to Ward.

When asked if he saw the prices of homes creep up to Bay Area levels, Ward stated, “A lot of that's going to depend on how this whole work at home thing plays out. Is this a trend moving forward where people are just gonna say, ‘I don't want to be in the city’?”

Ward continued, “A lot of it will depend on health care. What's the health care like in the area? Are they going to move here full time, and are they retired? There are just so many variables.”

Ward emphasized the importance of affordable rentals for locals when asked how the local government should consider addressing this problem. He also brought up the emergence of Airbnb in the area and how that takes potential rentals off the market.

He predicted more of the same for 2022, with supply and demand being the biggest issue. He also brought up an interesting point about Calaveras County's economy in comparison to the rest of the state: “We didn't really reach our peaks of the Great Recession until about six months ago. The Bay Area caught up years ago, so they're way up above their pre-recession peaks, but we're not.”

Jesse Gibbs, president of the Calaveras County Association of Realtors, told the Enterprise that “affordability throughout the state is something that we're always looking at our local levels and at our California Association of Realtors’ level. We look at different developments and try to encourage some building, which is important.”

“When you're having housing shortages, the only way to fix that is to add the ability to bring more housing into an area. Are we looking for big huge subdivisions? Not necessarily—maybe smaller subdivisions. So I think if we can work together with the local government and look at more ways to bring different types of housing into our area, it will really help. And encouraging builders and developers to look in our area as well,” said Gibbs.

Gibbs predicted that the interest rates may be rising from 4% to 4.5% but emphasized that it is still a good rate.

Supervisors discuss affordable housing

On the public sector side, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors received a presentation from county housing programs manager Lee Kimball at their March 22 meeting. The presentation was the 2021 Housing Element Annual Report to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The state requires that each county make these presentations once a year.

“An updated Housing Element was adopted by the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 10, 2019, with a new Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) assigned to the County. The RHNA is an assessment of the number of housing units that the jurisdiction should be providing to meet the housing needs of the community over the life cycle of the Housing Element, broken down by housing costs and affordability,” according to the item printout.

Kimball explained during the presentation that 22 permits were issued for manufactured housing in 2021. She also stated, “We funded and created an ADU, accessory dwelling unit, homeowners manual. This will help local homeowners and landowners to consider and hopefully get permitted a second housing unit on their property.”

The department was also able to increase the number of housing vouchers from 67 to 97, according to Kimball. She also emphasized how the department will be focusing on expanding special needs housing for disabled individuals in 2022.

District 5 supervisor Benjamin Stopper and District 2 supervisor Jack Garamendi brought up the slow progress on building low-income housing as well as housing for more middle-class citizens.

District 3 supervisor Merita Callaway asked if the effects of short-term rentals on the housing market such as Airbnb and bed and breakfasts have been part of their research, but the department has yet to do any research on those aspects of the housing market.

Other news that was dropped in the meeting was from District 1 supervisor Gary Tofanelli, who noted that Habitat for Humanity is building 107 homes in the Angels Camp area.

Supervisor Stopper brought up issues in the City of San Jose, where homeowners had put a stop to the city building more affordable housing projects near their neighborhoods because of the negative stigma low income/ affordable housing carries.

This prompted District 4 supervisor Amanda Folendorf to say, “I think we need to get rid of the stigma of some of these words and lingo. Workforce housing is for the guy next to you in the bar drinking a beer. It’s for the single mom working two jobs to try and put a roof over her head. This isn’t this negative thing we have created in our minds. I find it insulting when the public says ‘Not in my backyard’ when it could be for your best friend.”

Housing in Angels Camp

The RHNA has been an ongoing discussion point at the last few Angels Camp City Council meetings as well. A noteworthy piece of information from the April 5 city council meeting is the RHNA’s income level classification.

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The last two city council meetings involved the City of Angels Housing Element Annual Report (APR) for 2021, the same kind of progress report discussed at the board of supervisors meeting.

Some of the plans and updates for the project in 2022 are:

Sewer line: Securing a Streambed Alteration Agreement from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for the East Trunk/Vallecito Road sewer line project. This application was formally submitted on March 18.

Additional code updates: These are intended to provide CEQA guidelines and permit streamlining.

Design guidelines: These are intended to adopt development standards for the city’s different commercial zoning districts.

The sewer and septic problem has been discussed by public officials, and some have stated that it deters contractors from wanting to build homes in the area, especially apartment complexes.

Another update made at the last city council meeting was a guideline for apartment rentals being converted to condominiums for purchase. The purpose of the guideline is to protect low-income renters who rely on these properties from being displaced should the property owner want to sell. City planner Amy Augustine explained that this type of situation is something that the city rarely has to deal with but that the guideline should be included just in case.

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Danny is a writer and a Calaveras County native. He studied creative writing and marketing at San Francisco State University and has previously done work as an automotive journalist. He is happy to be back and writing about the local community.

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