Davis City Council Questions: Question 5 – Affordable Housing

This is our fifth of eight questions.  The candidates get exactly 250 words.  The answer was due at 9 pm on Thursday.

Question 5: Everyone says they want affordable housing.  But with the loss of Redevelopment funding, actually building it is difficult.  If elected, how would you change the affordable housing ordinance and what policies would you pass to ensure that affordable housing can get financed and built at the level you advocate?

District 2

Dillan Horton

A couple of years ago the City Council made a decision to essentially nullify their affordable housing ordinance and specifically the provisions that require a percentage of affordable housing to be built in new developments.

Many thought that this provision was an obstacle to building any housing at all. Though I recognize that some developers said that these affordable housing thresholds were financially unworkable in housing developments, this decision over time will reduce the stock of affordable housing in the City of Davis.

I believe the best way for the city to start improving the situation is to recommit to its own affordable housing ordinance. This will help expand the stock of affordable housing built in future development projects.

As market-rate housing expands, so should the availability of affordable housing. The city should also encourage more developers to contribute to the housing trust fund. This would give the city resources to finance the building of additional affordable housing or to provide other kinds of support for those struggling to afford rising housing costs.

At some points in the past developers have used the option of housing trust fund contributions to get out of obligations to build affordable housing units. To avoid this, the city should use this option in conjunction with the building of affordable housing units, along with making sure that developer contributions are fair for the community and have an actual impact addressing housing needs.

Colin Walsh

The loss of redevelopment funding is regrettable, but affordable housing is continuing to be built across the state with other sources of funding and mechanisms. The end of redevelopment agencies has not been the end of affordable housing construction.

The first step is to do an independent, in-depth study that looks at what level of inclusionary housing is actually achievable. We need a solid understanding of what can work so that the city is not relying on subjective claims by developers of what does or does not “pencil out.” The city needs an independent arbitrator of how affordable housing can be included so we can maximize affordable units in future projects.

Secondly, I would like to look into restoring the suspended Middle Income Ordinance to provide affordable workforce housing. I think the most impactful example built in Davis has been the Dos Pinos housing cooperative. I would like to see more projects like Dos Pinos.

Third, Davis impact fees are currently based on unit numbers and not unit size. I would like to see impact fees based on square footage rather than number of units. It doesn’t make sense that a 1-bedroom apartment and a 5-bedroom apartment pay the same impact fees.

Lastly, the goal should be to restore, or get closer to the 25% requirement of the suspended affordable housing ordinance and to strengthen affordability requirements in mixed use development.

District 3

Lucas Frerichs

Davis has built nearly 1,500 units of permanently Affordable units since the inception of the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance in the early 1990s.  Most recently, Creekside Commons (90- 1 &2 BR units) has opened within the last few months, and Mutual Housing @5th (38 units) will be under construction shortly. Other land dedication sites are on the horizon, including the four acres at BrettonWoods, etc.

The vast majority of the units constructed have been built using the land dedication tool, as well as funding from a variety of local, state and federal sources.  The loss of Redevelopment dollars has significantly hamstrung local governments’ ability to contribute and construct Affordable housing.

We’ve had to look for additional tools to help create Affordable housing, and I’m proud that we were able to find a way for students to utilize some of these units (coming soon -Lincoln40 & DavisLive). We’ve also found a way to have developers create an ongoing funding source to provide affordable units (3850 Chiles Rd- not yet under construction).

It is time to reexamine the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance.  I’d propose a focused & intense stakeholder effort that includes a Council subcommittee,  City Commissioners, (Social Services & Planning),  housing advocates (Sac. Housing Alliance, Mutual Housing CA, Neighborhood Partners, Legal Services of Northern CA) and the public, among others. I’d like to see a suite of recommendations from this stakeholder process for the Council to consider, prior to making necessary changes/upgrades.

Larry Guenther

Changes to the Affordable Housing ordinance: removal of the exemption for mixed-use buildings, an actual number for minimums in the Downtown (to be determined by the Social Services Commission using evidence and input from local developers), update the in-lieu fee, and include the recommendations from the Social Services Commission.

By its nature, new construction is expensive, though residential rents have gone up a lot faster than materials costs. Refurbishing existing housing stock to Affordable Housing is a good way to make more headway on this issue and would be a more efficient use of the Affordable Housing fund.

Also, there is affordable housing that is not officially designated Affordable. Many of the older apartment complexes—many near downtown—are heavily populated by working families. We must not trade this for new construction with what can be defined as “Affordable.” The University Commons project is an example of defined “Affordable Housing” that is actually more expensive than existing market-rate housing. This is a somewhat shameful use of an equation to make a project look good.

Additionally, Affordable Housing numbers should be “net” numbers. For example, the Lincoln 40 project removed housing that was less expensive than the Affordable Housing associated with that project. Again, using math to make things look better than they are should not be City policy.

Long-term affordability—increasing limited-equity ownership opportunities (a la Dos Pinos, etc.) allows a much broader swath of the economic spectrum to gain equity and improve their economic station.

District 5

Josh Chapman

The City should enforce the existing ordinance and be consistent in its expectations from developers. In the current environment, projects and modifications to affordable housing are approved on an ad-hoc basis, which creates great inconsistencies in affordable housing inventory. Affordable housing requirements exist for proposed development projects and enforcing these requirements would create more certainty for developers and add to the affordable housing supply.

Approval of the Downtown Plan with a focus on densification and building up would create more opportunities for affordable housing units. If we truly value equity and inclusivity, then the best way forward is to have a diverse plan that leads to more affordable units on the ground.

Expanding the Housing Trust Fund will support a wide variety of affordable housing development. Slight increases in development impact fees, allocating Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) dollars to this fund, and re-exploring the $50 social services parcel tax that was proposed by Mayor (Robb) Davis are several options to explore. While as a small business owner I recognize the economic impact of the pandemic on all businesses, cities of comparable size in California have much higher in-lieu fees and this is a realistic approach to building more affordable housing.

Council should work to address the anti-development culture. There is a tremendous amount of misunderstanding about how much affordable housing single development projects generate. A social services parcel tax, which would generate $1.5 million a year, will open new and more sustainable ways to fund affordable housing.

Kelsey Fortune

Things like affordable rent by the bed allows property owners to charge higher prices for a unit by increasing the occupancy of a two bedroom to four people for instance. This is unacceptable. The current affordable housing ordinance offers too much flexibility and opportunities for developers to get around providing units at affordable prices. Building market rate housing in Davis will make money. Period. Rents and housing appreciation are so high, and vacancy rates so low that we can and should ask more of developers and current development.

I would recommend a simplified affordable housing ordinance for rentals that includes the following or something similar.

  1. 25% of rented units going to households making less than 120% of Yolo median income with price capped at 75% of market rate and
  2. 10%* of rented units going to households making less than 80% of Yolo median income with price capped at 50% of market rate.

This should be for new development as well as existing rentals. Anyone who owns 4 or more units is subject to (1) and anyone who owns 10 or more units is subject to (2). If a property does not comply in each month, fees would apply. For example, a fee of $1000 per occupied out of compliance unit.

Connor Gorman

The ideal (and most affordable) way to build housing in Davis (and elsewhere) would be through democratically controlled and publicly funded projects. At the moment, however, most projects in Davis are private and for-profit. Despite this, we still can, and must, hold these projects and their developers accountable to the needs and standards of the City, especially around affordability.  Using capitalist market forces (potentially in conjunction with densification) to address affordability might have some limited uses under the current economic and political system but direct pressure and requirements need to be a major component of our affordability plan.

One way to begin doing this is by strengthening our affordable housing ordinance, preferably by increasing the required percentages of Affordable units in housing developments but, at the very least, by closing loopholes.  One major loophole that needs to be addressed is developers paying in-lieu fees rather than actually building Affordable housing.  These fees are beneficial to both the City and the developer under certain circumstances but need to be increased substantially.  Furthermore, actual construction of Affordable units must be prioritized.

Another major loophole is by-the-bed “Affordability” in doubles where it’s questionable whether this is really any cheaper than renting a single market-rate room and splitting the cost between two people (I would be fine with by-the-bedroom, which is different than by-the-bed, Affordability under applicable circumstances though).  Finally, I think any Affordability plans need to involve Affordability that’s representative of the project’s bedroom arrangement.

Rochelle Swanson

Talking to voters across District 5 and the City, it is clear there are numerous definitions of “affordable.” We need to utilize the Housing Element process to get a mutual understanding of the term.

There is state defined Affordable (capital A) and “market-rate” affordable. I would advocate updating the Affordable Housing Ordinance based reflective of the data gathered during the Housing Element Update, including community input as to what is the right focus.

Personally, I think we need to be more thoughtful about placement of Affordable housing in relation to the type of housing—extremely low, very low and low income.

The breakdown of the 30% required Affordable units for new developments should be distributed according to location and availability of services. Not only should Affordable housing in Davis be distributed throughout the City, it should also be located near grocery stores and community amenities.

My focus is on people and not simply a door count. As to funding, we should maintain a set threshold of an agreed upon percentage within new developments along with an option for in-lieu fees where location and use is incompatible.

In addition to in-lieu fees, I want to explore real investments into a Housing Trust Fund to augment Affordable housing and provide down payment assistance for market-rate affordable.

Potential sources include leveraging city property, a portion of TOT, and a dedicated fee from real estate transactions, as well as lobbying the state to revisit redevelopment around affordable housing.

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