Panel calls for affordable housing

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By ERIN MAYES

Builders in Tuolumne County might be required to set aside as much as 20 percent of future developments for affordable housing by next year.

The Board of Supervisors Planning Committee decided yesterday to endorse an inclusionary ordinance requiring that developers make 10 to 20 percent of their units available to very low-income, low-income and moderate buyers and renters.

These units can range from mobile homes and apartments to condominiums and houses.

But committee members noted that the battle for affordable housing has not yet been won. Panel chairman Dick Pland warned that low-income, high-density housing projects spurred by the new rules could run into a buzz saw of public opposition.

"How are we going to get the public to support higher density projects in this town?" Pland asked. "Nine out of 10 people are going to go nuts because they just hate, hate, hate high-density housing. It's going to go all the way down in flames if we can't get the public to get on board with us."

The inclusionary ordinance and other proposals made by the committee yesterday will be included in a draft revision of county General Plan's Housing Element, which will later go before the Board of Supervisors for approval, said principal county Planner Mike Laird.

The county is required to update its Housing Element by the end of the year to accommodate population growth projected through mid-2007.

The new inclusionary ordinance would apply only to developers constructing five or more units, the panel decided. And, those who purchase the new affordable homes would have to live in them for 10 years before being allowed to sell at market value.

If an owner decides to sell earlier in a requirement borrowed from Placer County's housing element the resale price could not exceed the purchase price plus the percentage increase in the county's median income during the seller's tenure and the value of capital improvements to the property.

The state's Department of Housing and Community Development has estimated Tuolumne County will need 3,852 new homes in the next four years. Of these, 899 must be available to people with very-low incomes (families of four who earn $23,900 or less per year), Laird said.

Almost 650 of those must be available to low-income households, which bring in from 50 to 80 percent of the county's median income of $47,800, and 747 units must be available to moderate-income households, which earn from 80 to 120 percent of the median. The remaining units would be available to people with above-moderate incomes.

As an incentive to build more affordable housing in the county, the committee also decided to authorize a "fast-track" development process. This would speed up the planning process and elevate all affordable-housing projects to the top of the Community Development Department's workload.

"Time is money for anybody," said Pland. "Maybe we could give some guaranteed expedited time line. Some of the time, these things go on for years. Time is so important when you've got land and you're paying interest on it."

Committee member Ty Wivell agreed.

"I think that's probably one of the biggest incentives we can have," he said.

People developing housing won't be the only ones to contribute to the affordable-housing cause, though. Commercial and industrial developments will chip in with "in-lieu" fees, depending on their size, that will help build affordable housing around the county. Those fees will be proposed by CDD staff members and presented to the Board of Supervisors for approval on a yet-to-be determined date.

Many members of the diverse Housing Affordability Task Force were on hand to give their input and said they were not disappointed. The group was formed by the county's Chamber of Commerce and Board of Realtors several months ago to try to ease the county's shortage of affordable housing.

An odd sight was Mountain Springs developer Ron Kopf and Paula Authier of Voters Choice sitting side by side. In 2001, Authier's group held a petition drive that brought about the withdrawal of Kopf's project late that year.

Chamber of commerce President George Segarini, Realtor Sally Allison, Sonora Mayor Marlee Powell and Beetle Barbour, shelter program manager for the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency are all members. Wivell, a banker, rancher and county planning commissioner, also belongs to the group and sits on the planning committee.

Voters Choice endorsed a 20 percent inclusionary ordinance yesterday.

Twelve of California's 58 counties have adopted inclusionary ordinances, as have 95 of the state's 467 cities.

Contact Erin Mayes at emayes@uniondemocrat.com .

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