It's the spending season, and we have the numbers to prove it:

According to various industry experts, the average American is expected to spend $920 this year on holiday gifts and related activities. By the time 2020 makes its appearance, Americans’ spending spree will top $1 trillion.

That’s a good thing, and keeps many businesses, especially the smaller local ones, going. It also puts many of the spenders in a financial hole. Think of January as National Bill Month.

There is a disturbing fact in such statistics — a large percentage of Americans can’t really afford holiday spending, but do it anyway because it just seems cruel to deprive your family of the joys of the season.

So, many cut corners elsewhere, buying bargain foods, being late with car payments, scrimping on things such as basic health care, maybe missing the January rent payment.

Those last two issues are related. A report from Enterprise Community Partners shows that more than half the renters answering questions in a survey say they have delayed getting medical care in order to pay their rent, and that they will continue doing that.

That suggests a health train wreck on the horizon, with more than 50 million Americans currently lacking health-care insurance coverage — many, if not most of them renters — and a president whose administration seems determined to toss even more Americans under the train by dismembering the Affordable Care Act. The most common sorts of medical treatment survey respondents admitted delaying in 2019 were routine checkups, seeking treatment while sick, and not buying over-the-counter medicine.

All of which boils down to this — America has many big problems, but perhaps none more alarming than the general lack of affordable housing, coupled with the continuously escalating costs of health care.

It also seems that in a nation of such enormous wealth and get-it-done attitude, we truly should be able to solve one or both of those problems.

Which brings us home to the Central Coast, where affordable housing is in critically short supply, especially of the type to accommodate senior citizens.

For example, there is currently a senior housing project under construction in Santa Maria that will add 40 units to the city’s sparse inventory. Officials at People’s Self-Help Housing say that’s great, except they also expect hundreds of applications for those 40 units. The organization has more than 7,000 people on waiting lists for affordable housing, which means people further down the list could have to wait years for a place to live.

Many, if not most of those people will not stick around. They can’t afford to wait, and likely will find more of what they need in housing in other places, most commonly in another state.

OK, that effectively reduces the local population, but is that a good thing? Maybe in the short run, but local housing costs are so daunting that it will inevitably negatively affect our economy. Local business owners are already fighting the public perception that North County communities are unaffordable, which makes hiring good workers a problem.

Santa Maria families are spending more than the one-third of their income recommended by experts on housing. Santa Maria’s elected officials have expressed their belief that the affordable housing supply must be increased. But how to do that?

Not the sort of mess people want or need to be thinking about during this holiday season, but dealing with housing costs needs to be at the top of everyone’s 2020 agenda. Housing affordability is a puzzle that must be solved.



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