Sacramento County relaxes affordable housing requirements

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 - 11:03 pm

Sacramento County supervisors voted Tuesday to reduce affordable housing requirements, hoping to spur home construction after a recessionary lull despite opposition from advocates for low-income residents.

In a 3-2 vote, supervisors reduced the required level of affordable housing contributions and gave builders an option to pay a fee rather than set aside land or construct low-income units in new developments.

The county previously required that builders devote the equivalent of 15 percent of new projects toward affordable housing, and developers for years have sought to reduce that threshold through political and legal means.

Representatives of the North State Building Industry Alliance and other development groups told supervisors Tuesday that the recession has hurt the industry, and the old affordable housing ordinance will further damage middle-class home buyers and construction workers. But advocates for low-income residents say builders have used the housing ordinance as a scapegoat and that the county should give its 15 percent requirement a chance to succeed as the housing market gains strength.

Supervisors on Tuesday approved a new ordinance that is expected to produce 10 percent of affordable housing on new construction, according to projections from staff. That is more than the 8 percent originally proposed by staff. Fee proceeds will go toward a county fund dedicated for affordable housing programs.

Supervisor Don Nottoli voted against the proposal, arguing that developers will not pay enough under the new ordinance. Supervisor Susan Peters also voted against the change, but for the opposite reason, saying it charges developers too much.

County staff said the change was needed because other local governments in the region have relaxed their affordable housing requirements or are considering such changes. They also agreed that developers need help in light of recent economic difficulties.

But housing advocates questioned the need to help developers, saying the decision could mean more people living in substandard housing or no housing at all.

“You’re on the fine line of declaring war on half the population (that can’t afford to buy a home),” said Russell Rawlings, who lives in affordable housing in Oak Park.

Members of the Sacramento Housing Alliance, Sacramento Area Congregations Together and other advocacy groups spoke in opposition to the change. They held up drawings of a house as supervisors deliberated.

Because of variables in housing types and the real estate market, it is hard to predict whether the fee will generate as much as projected. County officials debated Tuesday where to project certain factors such as average home size and how large a subsidy is necessary to build affordable housing.

County officials acknowledged Tuesday they don’t know if the new law will work as planned. They said they will report to supervisors three times a year to explain how the fee is working.

A majority of the board initially appeared in support of a lower fee, $2.25 a square foot instead of $2.50. But Supervisor Phil Serna pushed the board for the higher requirement, saying he could not support the original proposal.

Previously a developer consultant, Serna said he once opposed the county’s affordable housing requirement. “Then I was representing my employer,” he said. “Now I represent all these people.”

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.

Read more articles by Brad Branan

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