Poor House

Some estimates put the market-rate price for Moro Cojo homes at around $500,000, as opposed to $300,000 with affordability deed restrictions.

As the California Coastal Commission prepared to vote July 14 on whether 161 homes in Castroville should remain as affordable housing forever, or allow homeowners to sell their homes at market rate, Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker stepped up to the podium and painted a vivid picture.

“Our homeless population on the coast is in the thousands,” she told commissioners. “We have people camping in all the nooks and crannies they can find, sleeping in their cars on the street and with friends and kind strangers as they try to find housing. We cannot afford to lose a single unit of affordable housing.”

That logic convinced five commissioners to vote against their staff’s recommendation, and against lifting the 1995 deed restrictions that require Moro Cojo homes to remain affordable “in perpetuity.”

The commission voted 5-5, meaning Moro Cojo homes will remain affordable.

The history of these homes is an example of how affordable housing is structured, and gives insight into the current controversy.

When nonprofit CHISPA (Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association, Inc.) bought the land in the early ’90s, it developed the infrastructure and sold finished lots to qualified low – to medium-income buyers, CEO Alfred Diaz-Infante says. Buyers put down a minimum amount – around $2,000 – to pay closing costs and insurance.

Buyers had to agree to work 40 hours a week on not only their own homes, but others in the neighborhood. CHISPA helped them acquire 20-year, 3-percent interest forgivable loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other government-subsidized sources, for homes then valued around $125,000.

Moro Cojo is unique. Under state law, affordability restrictions lift after 15 years in similar “sweat equity” programs. In a 2014 letter to the Monterey County Planning Department, California Coalition for Rural Housing Executive Director Robert Wiener stated he believed Moro Cojo to be the only program in the state subject to an “in perpetuity” restriction. “A resale deed restriction in perpetuity significantly limits the families’ ability to access the full equity they earn,” he wrote.

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The five dissenting commissioners said they had to think of future residents who will need affordable housing.

CHISPA and homeowners are meeting to figure out next steps. There are problems, Diaz-Infante says, like the fact the deed restrictions do not specify an agency to determine future eligible buyers.

Moro Cojo residents are fearful they will not be able to give the homes to their adult children, who may not qualify for affordable housing assistance.

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