Are regional housing goals an intrusion into local land use planning or a necessary tool to ensure the creation of affordable housing throughout the area? It depends who we ask.
Among the issues that Novato City Council member Jeanne MacLeamy has with the Association of Bay Area Government's administration of their housing projections is a subtle but significant change. Instead of merely identifying parcels where future housing projects might be built, MacLeamy says, the agency is now insisting that actual construction eventually ensure on those same sites.
Novato, a city of 50,000 people, has little available land left for new residential development, something that MacLeamy thinks should be factored into the ABAG housing needs projections.
Novato and other cities have also complained that ABAG will not count "granny units" or other second units toward their municipal housing targets. Affordable housing advocate David Grabill says these might be considered market rate housing, but are virtually never affordable.
In Novato, permits and other administrative costs can easily reach $60,000 before construction even begins, further distancing them from any prospect of affordability.
The ABAG includes all nine Bay Area counties.
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MacLeamy, contacted after this story ran on Rohnert Park Patch, was asked to expand on her thoughts about the topic, and she was kind enough to respond. She wrote:
ABAG and HCD should allow local land use policies to take precedence so that affordable housing can be provided that is appropriate to the jurisdiction.
Ideally jurisdictions should be allowed to provide a variety of affordable housing types, quantities and densities that suit their unique characteristics, their neighborhoods and land availability. The state’s projected numbers of new mandated housing units should be reexamined so they reflect declining future housing needs due to the dire fiscal condition of the state, high unemployment, business departures and the flood of foreclosed homes.
A variety of housing types could include but not be restricted to: second units that are deed restricted; vacant single-family homes (one or more) that may be sold at an affordable rate (such as by Habitat for Humanity); and affordable housing mixed with market-rate housing so affordable units are scattered rather than clustered all together. Exceptions allowing clustering would be Rotary-like senior housing and other nonprofit examples such as New Beginnings, Next Key and the future Buck Institute housing.
Most if not all “affordable housing” must be subsidized to make it affordable to build, manage and maintain. Cost of land, permit fees and construction costs to name a few make most units more expensive than affordable income levels would allow. Without donated or low cost land, reduced fees, “relaxed” lending standards, nonprofit participation and other taxpayer subsidies, affordable housing could not be provided.
With very little land left in Novato, it is important that every housing project be successful. Management, screening, densities (including potential bonus), number of units, site and building design standards, project amenities as well as the character of the neighborhood must be considered along with the fiscal impact on our services and infrastructure.