On the books for just over two years, Tuolumne County's affordable housing ordinance is suddenly in jeopardy.
Otherwise known as the Inclusionary Ordinance, the law provides that those proposing to build 10 or more homes make at least 10 percent of them affordable for families earning the county's median income or less.The prices of these homes would then be regulated for 15 years.
In the alternative, developers can pay the county an "in-lieu fee" of
$2,190 - or 1 percent of the valuation of an affordable home - for each
unit otherwise required.
Adopted in February of 2008, this so-called 10-10-15 plan was the
product of more than four years of intense, not always pleasant
negotiations involving the county, the building and development
community, and housing advocates.
But now the Tuolumne County Building Industry Association has asked
that the ordinance be either scrapped, suspended pending a study or
modified to ease its burden on developers.
The BIA's reason? That the declining economy has forced the price
of local housing down so far that an ordinance is no longer needed to
provide cheaper housing.
The request, in a debate that was reminiscent of those that came
during ordinance adoption, was argued before the Board of Supervisors
last week. Then it was sent to the board's Housing Policy Committee for
further study and a recommendation.
We urge that the committee recommend that the ordinance be left intact.
Repealing it, suspending it or pulling its teeth would undo nearly
four years of work by players on all sides of the debate and undermine
a compromise that left nobody really happy, but everybody involved
conceding it was probably fair.
The ordinance has been in force for more than two years. Mountain
Springs' proponents agreed to build 54 affordable units and Peaceful
Oak Estates, 40, for a total of 94.
In-lieu payments on 173 parcels in 19 developments were pledged and
now total $324,090. The cash will be used as a local match for federal,
state or private grants to fund affordable housing projects.
The program is effective, said Beetle Barbour, affordable housing
advocate with the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency.
Builders counter that its requirements are yet another burden added
to permit and hookup fees that contractor John Feriani said often reach
$40,000 per home.
But in-lieu charges collected elsewhere, like the $20,000-per-unit
levy the Stanislaus County community of Patterson adopted, dwarf
Tuolumne County's $2,190. And our fee kicks in only when 10 or more
homes are planned.
BIA also points out that home prices have dropped in the last year.
According to the county Assessor-Recorder's Office, the county's median
home price has dropped from $270,000 to $219,000 in the past year.
But incomes and jobs have dropped with prices during the recession.
Real estate sales are still low and families below the median still
The exhaustively debated inclusionary ordinance includes no "escape
clause" that would void all rules during housing market declines, and
one shouldn't be inserted retroactively.
Finally, a lawyer representing the BIA suggested that the ordinance
was not supported by facts and opens the county to a lawsuit. He said
the housing rules should be put on hold while an extensive study is
We appreciate the importance of the building/housing industry to our
community. We also agree that excessive governmental regulatory and
permitting fees - and hook-up fees charged by public utilities - should
be adjusted in this rugged economy. Cutting costs applicable to the
building of all homes - not just those subject to this specific
ordinance - would provide across-the-board relief.
However, we believe it's unwise and inappropriate for the BIA to
seek redress through changes in the inclusionary ordinance.That housing
plan was adopted through a lengthy and broad-based community adoption
process. The BIA should withdraw its objections and renew its support
for more affordable housing in Tuolumne County.