A roundtable of Fresno city officials, state housing officials and community developers met Thursday to endorse Gov. Jerry Brown’s affordable housing plan, part of his 2016-17 state budget plan.
The plan, called Housing for a Growing California, is two-fold:
▪ It seeks to develop a statewide by-right standard that will streamline the approval process for developers looking to build multifamily units in multifamily zones. By-right properties that meet a series of standards can avoid the review process.
▪ The state has set aside $400 million to help fund affordable housing, more than it has bookmarked for that purpose in a decade. But the legislature and the governor have yet to decide what the money will subsidize. Affordable housing means reducing rent for low-income families from costing more than half of their income to amounting to about 30 percent of their income.
Ben Metcalf, director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, noted that Fresno has already instituted its own by-right program on which the state by-right version is modeled.
“We believe the governor’s proposal is directionally correct,” Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said. “Funding for affordable housing is the major challenge for our community.”
I’ve been to committee after committee to build multifamily housing on a multifamily zoned piece of property. It’s delaying getting this much-needed housing on the street to the residents of this great state.
Jake Lingo, Integrated Community Development
The by-right program is most efficient for high-transit areas, where people living in affordable housing would have access to nearby transportation and job opportunities.
“California wants to see more of its projected growth happening near jobs in urban corridors close to transit and amenities,” Metcalf said. “What’s exciting is that we think the developers will be voluntarily setting aside unsubsidized units serving these very low-income households where otherwise they wouldn’t.”
That’s because the by-right clause promises an expedited approval process for developers who agree to set aside a certain percentage of units for affordable housing and who meet Fresno’s standards for zoning, size and location.
In the Fresno transit areas, identified as Blackstone, Kings Canyon and Ventura avenues, at least 10 percent of units should be reserved for lower income households, or 5 percent for very low-income households. Outside transit areas, at least 20 percent of units should be reserved for individuals earning 80 percent or less of the median income. In Fresno, the median income is $65,000; affordable housing targets those earning $52,000 or less.
Preston Prince from the Fresno Housing Authority said his group serves 18,000 households where 80 percent or more have incomes of about $10,000 a year. This income is less than 30 percent of the median and the threshold for the very low-income category.
“We definitely have some household income issues in Fresno that are different from the rest of the state, but still the by-right proposal, I think, will help with not just what the housing authority does, but also developers and what they can do in the community,” Prince said.
Dan Zack, assistant planning director for the city of Fresno, quelled one concern at the center of the new plan: whether the by-right process would allow developers to build multifamily complexes in established single-family zones – such as in the Wellington Place debate in northeast Fresno.
“It’s not introducing multifamily into established single-family neighborhoods,” Zack said of by-right. “It’s identifying where multifamily works best, makes the most sense and clearing the path for it in those situations.”
Swearengin agrees. She said developers looking to build multifamily units in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes would require public vetting and rezoning.
An affordable housing developer who has built about 4,500 units statewide added his perspective to the roundtable. Ben Lingo, of Integrated Community Development, alluded to horror stories in development, adding that the streamlined process will help the building process. (Note: The original version of this story incorrectly identified the speaker as Jake Lingo, Ben’s brother.)
“Affordable housing often meets roadblocks and barriers that are perhaps manufactured, sometimes created,” Lingo said. “I’ve been to design review committees. I’ve been to landscape and lighting committees. I’ve been to committee after committee to build multifamily housing on a multifamily zoned piece of property. It’s a waste of time. It’s a waste of money and it’s delaying getting this much-needed housing on the street to the residents of this great state.”