In this rural city, a ‘nothing off the table’ mindset gets housing built

Feb 1, 2024

By Brian Hendershot, Western City magazine managing editor

When people think of California’s housing crisis, they often think of dense, urban regions along the coast — and for good reason. Most Californians live in coastal communities where housing construction has slowed. But for the small, agricultural communities like Huron that dot the Central Valley, the housing crisis is equally acute.

“We have a lot of [people] that are renting rooms and renting garages because we just don’t have a lot of the space that we need … especially affordable housing,” said John Kunkel, a former interim city manager and consultant for Huron.

The city has a population of 6,000. But during the harvest season, that number rises significantly. Huron also has many of the same challenges that other rural cities face. Young people want to move to larger cities and the town’s small population is not attractive for many businesses looking to expand into new markets. The city’s economy also depends on agriculture. One bad harvest season can put severe downward economic pressure on residents and the city alike. 

Davis Slajchert, an expert on affordable housing, says small communities like Huron struggle with increasing construction costs and a lack of infrastructure. His company, Willow Partners, has built affordable housing projects throughout the state for over 25 years — from San Diego County to Butte County.

Slajchert’s team had to build out sewer capacity, roads, sidewalks, and streetlights for its newest development in Huron, Valley Village Apartments. And then there’s the biggest challenge of all: money. “You’re competing for very limited resources if you try to … finance housing in rural areas,” Slajchert said.

Paradoxically, Huron is also an example of what ongoing funding can do. Compared to many other small towns, Huron has a diverse range of housing options. That’s because the city qualifies for low-income tax credits, which has allowed for a slew of new developments. Roughly a third of all Huron households meet the U.S. Census definition of poverty, with average incomes far below state and national averages.

The funding is still not enough to close the housing gap, but it has put Huron on the path to meeting its housing element goals.

Read the full story in the February issue of  Western City magazine.

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