November 21, 2023
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Solutions to San Luis Obispo affordable housing crisis elusive


More than 300 of San Luis Obispo County’s most influential minds in the area of housing, development and the economy convened March 9 for a five-hour summit to discuss the future of affordability in the region.

The event was kicked off by Ermin Karim, president and CEO of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. The chamber represents 1,400 businesses with 34,000 employees.

“We have those in need of housing and those concerned about creating additional housing,” Karim said.

The event was centered on ways to find innovative solutions to the workforce housing affordability crisis, with an eye toward finding affordability for all income levels of the workforce.

Like many of the communities at or near the coast of California, San Luis Obispo struggles with a significant jobs-housing imbalance. People commute long distances across multiple cities so they can afford homes but work in the city. The long times on the highway can lead to employee burnout, and disconnection between their personal and professional lives.

“I think we are all here for people,” said Samson Blackwell, talent acquisitions director at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. “Housing is a very essential issue. Without it, we don’t have the security we need.”

In a four-person panel discussion titled “A Tear in Our Social Fabric,” each member explained the challenges of living in San Luis Obispo. Three of the panelists were renters and discussed the hardships that exist from not being able to buy a home.

“I am very sad to be leaving the community,” said Natalie Marinelli,  a renter, who plans to leave San Luis Obispo this month and travel the world partly because she’d rather spend her money seeing the world than dumping it into rental housing. Marinelli is the executive assistant to the CEO at TekTegrity. She has lived in San Luis Obispo for the past seven years.

The panelists also talked about the difficulty of recruitment and retention for businesses in the area because of the high cost of housing.

Kristin Flynn, chief human resources officer for Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, said 80 percent of the hospital staff live outside the city of San Luis Obispo.

The panelists said seniors in particular face serious financial challenges because of the housing crisis. Seniors who are at the end of their lives are afraid of having to move out from where they live.

“We’re talking about decisions by people to take their medication or pay their rent,” said Kathleen Bellefontaine, chair of the San Luis Obispo County Commission on Aging.

• Contact Joshua Molina at