Affordable housing and high-speed broadband Internet access. Not things Merced County is currently known for, but there is at least one organization working to change that.
The Sacramento-based Rural County Representatives of California reported back to local public officials this week about their work on these issues in Merced County as well as on behalf of the state’s rural areas. RCRC represents more than half of California’s counties, including the entire northern third of the state and parts of the Valley, Sierra Nevada and the Central Coast.
It does this primarily through partnerships with other organizations called JPAs, or joint powers authorities, which are public institutions that partner together to achieve things that would be difficult for individual groups. They are especially common in California.
In Merced County, the Golden State Finance Authority and the National Homebuyers Fund have helped around 2,000 individuals and families purchase a home since 1993. Over $13 million in down payment assistance was provided as well. The GSFA is a joint powers authority that has helped more than 84,000 home buyers since its inception.
A new program, called Assist-To-Own, is aimed at providing down payment assistance to county workers. According to RCRC president Patrick Blacklock, county employees are having a hard time affording homes in rural areas.
The RCRC also is at the forefront of rolling out high-speed broadband internet access in rural areas. The plan is for California’s rural areas to be able to start demonstrating public broadband services by the end of 2024. Merced County is still in the process of designing its network with the help of another JPA, the Golden State Connect Authority, established recently by the RCRC in the wake of last year’s $6 billion high-speed Internet investment from the state. The legislation – Senate Bill 156 – allows individual counties to finally offer their own public broadband services where private companies have chosen not to invest in local Internet infrastructure. Merced is set to receive $500,000 from the state to begin work on the engineering side of the project.
“With GSCA we wanted to make sure our rural communities didn’t get left behind,” Blacklock said.
The RCRC has partnered with Utopia Fiber, a JPA in Utah with experience installing high-speed fiber optic lines in eleven different cities in that state.