A Novato-based group working to help create more affordable housing opportunities said the city's draft housing element, which was just sent off to Sacramento for state review, contains some positive steps toward making Novato more sustainable for its growing population but still falls short in several categories.
In a letter to the Novato Planning Commission, the Stand Up for Neighborly Novato group said programs that encourage mixed use and the development of vacant lots and other underused properties take the city in the right direction. But more sites need to be rezoned for housing and development needs to happen rather than just be discussed, the group said.
"SUNN looks forward to working with your commission and (city) staff to assure that housing element programs actually achieve their intended objectives and meet the requirements of housing element law," SUNN said in its letter. "We believe from our work in the community over the last 22 months that more sites are necessary to meet Novato’s great need for housing, and that HCD will agree with this point of view.
SUNN, established in 2011, said Novato needs more workforce housing to maintain a thriving community and provide options against Marin's highest-in-the-country rents that "still price out many of Novato's workers, seniors, persons with disabilities, and recent graduates."
In its letter, SUNN said the density per acre of 20 units mentioned prominently in the draft housing element could pose a problem with the state.
"The city would be on shaky legal ground if it were to allow higher densities for market-rate multifamily housing than for affordable housing," SUNN wrote, "because it would discriminate against affordable housing, in violation of state law. Your commission should consider higher densities on key infill sites to facilitate an improvement of the Mission Lodge property and other properties on North Redwood (Boulevard)."
SUNN said the draft element fails to acknowledge 62 units from the previous planning period that ended in 2006 and that the city overstated the number of lower-income units that have been approved for the current 2007-2014 span.
Katie Crecelius, speaking on behalf of SUNN, said the group hopes the Planning Commission will follow the recommendations in the letter. But as of Monday afternoon, SUNN had not heard anything from the comissioners or staff about the letter to the Planning Commission, she said.
The city planning staff will, indeed, draft a response to SUNN's letter, city spokeswoman Peggy Flynn said Monday. The draft housing element was not modified based on the letter before it was sent to HCD, she said.
The Novato Planning Commission will have a chance to provide comments on the draft housing element and the feedback it receives, and Flynn said the commissioners might choose to include elements of SUNN letter.
What do you think of SUNN's stance? Are you supportive of more affordable housing in Novato?