Affordable Housing

The regulation imposing a certain percentage being built as part of any development is long overdue for reform, and it appears it will be, as reported by the Sacramento Bee.

This is proper as the regulation stymies market development, and as Jane Jacobs wrote in her seminal book:

“The answer we long ago accepted went like this: The reason we need dwelling subsidies is to provide for that part of the population which cannot be housed by private enterprise.

“And, the answer went on, so long as this is necessary anyway, the subsidized dwellings should embody and demonstrate the principles of good housing and planning.

“This is a terrible answer, with terrible consequences. A twist of semantics suddenly presents us with people who cannot be housed by private enterprise, and hence must presumably be housed by someone else. Yet in real life, these are people whose housing needs are not in themselves peculiar and thus outside the ordinary province and capability of private enterprise, like the housing needs of prisoners, sailors at sea or the insane. Perfectly ordinary housing needs can be provided for almost anybody by private enterprise. What is peculiar about these people is merely that they cannot pay for it.

“Quicker that the eye can see however, “people who cannot be housed by private enterprise” have been turned into a statistical group with peculiar shelter requirements, like prisoners, on the basis of one statistic: their income. To carry out the rest of the answer, this statistical group becomes a special collection of guinea pigs for Utopians to mess around with.” (p. 420)

Jacobs, J. (1961). The death and life of great American cities. (50th Anniversary Edition, 2011) New York: Modern Library.

Excerpt from the Bee article:

In another sign of the city of Sacramento’s desire to reverse its anti-business reputation, officials are exploring changes to a low-income housing ordinance that would allow developers to pay fees in lieu of constructing a required percentage of affordable housing in new projects.

Affordable housing advocates argue that the fees being discussed are too low and that the changes will result in a dearth of low-income housing for a city where hundreds of people sleep on the streets each night.

Roughly 50 of those advocates marched to City Hall from Trinity Cathedral in midtown Tuesday afternoon to urge the City Council to keep its current regulations. Most of the more than 30 residents who testified on the issue were opposed to the changes being explored.

The City Council discussed the changes Tuesday night but will not vote on a revamped ordinance until early next year.

Those changes could allow developers to pay fees based on the size of projects instead of setting aside 15 percent of new housing developments for low-income residents. The fees would go into the city’s Housing Trust Fund, which is used to help finance affordable housing projects.

A city staff report described the current ordinance as “inflexible” and said the rules have led developers to construct massive affordable housing projects next to single-family homes – a trend seen frequently in North Natomas.

City officials said the fees would also give the city an important financing tool for affordable housing projects following the elimination of redevelopment subsidies.

Officials will explore the changes in the coming months before seeking City Council approval in January at the earliest. City staff pledged a series of meetings with interest groups before a plan is crafted.

“We have a balancing act here to do,” said Councilman Steve Hansen.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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