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Housing Issue Won't Go Away

June 22, 1986

When a government wants to avoid a decision and placate the public at the same time, a standard ploy is to send the issue to a committee. Often as not, it never seems to surface again.

We hope that that is not what happened when the Orange County Board of Supervisors recently responded to pleas from community groups for more housing for people with low income and large families by referring the issue to the county Interagency Coordinating Council. The council, which is headed by Larry Parrish, the county administrative officer, is made up of representatives from the county's 26 cities.

Housing costs continue to be one of the county's most critical problems, and the scarcity of lower-cost housing here is one of the major reasons for the growing number of homeless people. The higher home costs also explain the exodus of many residents to nearby counties where more reasonable rental and purchase prices are available.

Everyone, including members of the county board, is aware of that. What's needed now is some action to go along with the awareness.

Representatives from such groups as the Fair Housing Council and county Human Relations Commission were properly sensitive in asking county officials to adopt more realistic standards rather than continuing to urge builders to construct housing for people earning up to 120% of the county's $42,000-per-year median income.

Moderate income is considered to be between 80% and 120% of the median, low income 50% to 80% and very low income under 50%. Moderate-income residents earning up to $50,000 a year don't need that kind of help. Families earning $25,000 a year or less certainly do, especially those with several children.

Another problem is that many families who otherwise might be able to find an affordable rental just can't get together the money to pay the first and last month's rent and a security deposit that's usually needed to move into an apartment.

Jean Forbath, a member of the county Human Relations Commission and director of Share Our Selves, urged that more temporary shelters be made available for people who need several months to save enough money for an apartment. That's another good way to meet the housing problem head-on.

The county board is correct in its contention that housing is a problem for all agencies. But leadership is needed now. Someone must be willing to carry the ball. The supervisors just handed it off to Parrish and the Interagency Coordinating Council. Maybe they'll take it and head for the goal.

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