With every budget that passes in Merced, the city only narrowly reaches the bare minimum when it comes to allocating funding for affordable housing.
In recent years, the only affordable housing developments that have been passed in the city use money that has been specifically earmarked for it — money that cannot be used for anything but affordable housing. In 2021-22 budget documents, the City of Merced’s Housing Department is stated to “[strive] to provide and maintain affordable housing, public services, infrastructure improvements, and public facilities for low to moderate-income residents by using federal and state funds.” It seems it is doing that — the bare minimum using federal and state funds, not addressing the needs of the community and allocating more funding than what is already provided. But that’s not enough.
The majority of new housing developments in Merced being market rate housing is something that impacts every income level in the community. The locations where affordable housing was previously approved are siloed into areas of the city where it’s “expected” — neighborhoods such as South Merced and Loughborough — to have affordable housing. “Expected,” because they are already existing neighborhoods where lower income folks tend to make up the majority of the population. This creates more inequity and segregation in Merced and inhibits the environment we want to create in the city.
Affordable housing needs to be included in more up and coming neighborhoods in North Merced, as well. Neighborhoods that are close to resources such as grocery stores, healthcare, and schools. The silos where affordable housing has already been approved don’t have access to this infrastructure and the people who live there have to travel to different neighborhoods just for access. If these resources only exist in more affluent neighborhoods and folks have to travel across town for it, the resources get overwhelmed, not to mention the amount of emissions created from cars just to get there creates even more negative environmental factors as well. This would not be such a problem if these resources existed in every neighborhood of Merced.
It is not the fault of people trying to make a living wage when the city allows developers to set market rate housing but makes no requirement for affordable units to be built when these same developers come into town.
The City of Merced has recently been boasting about economic development and creating more jobs, considering this to be investing in the city. But how much of the money from this economic development is actually being invested in the city’s community?
Creating mixed-income housing and implementing an inclusionary zoning policy is a way to combat these inequities. Building more affordable housing through the city is also a solution. Providing more assistance in general, as well. These potential solutions have been advocated for by residents and constituents in the City of Merced, and yet the city has not been listening and implementing policies that address the needs of its community.