Affordable housing top priority for Del Mar city council

Affordable housing top priority for Del Mar city council
Council members at the Oct. 3 meeting vowed to make the creation of affordable housing a priority. Courtesy image

DEL MAR — Council members at the Oct. 3 meeting vowed to make the creation of affordable housing a priority, supporting recommendations from the Del Mar Housing Corporation to set up a $2 million reserve fund in the next five years and hire a consultant to explore acquisition, development and conversion opportunities in the city.

“I usually like to brag about all the special things that we do in this town,” resident and Housing Corporation member Bud Emerson said. “This is one of the most embarrassing things that I ever have to talk about.

“We have some great words in our housing element but we haven’t achieved anything,” he added. “It’s not only a legal issue. It’s a moral issue. I mean, what the hell kind of a community are we if we can’t make a statement that we’re willing to get out there and do something?”

Don Mosier is among the council members who share Emerson’s shame.

“We’re the only city in the county that has zero affordable housing units,” Mosier said. “The next smallest city has 28 and then it goes way up from there. We’re not even close and I’m embarrassed that we haven’t made a start.

“We need to be able to take care of our lower-income citizens,” he added, noting that according to the last census, 27 percent of Del Mar’s population would qualify as medium-low, low- and very-low income.

“It’s not like we don’t have enough people living in this city who could use low-income housing,” Mosier said.

The mission of the Housing Corporation is to promote and facilitate various housing opportunities in Del Mar.

“As we’re aware, that’s a difficult task, a colossal task at times,” Don Countryman, president of the organization, said.

Estimates put the median home price in Del Mar at more than $1.1 million and the median monthly rent at $4,500.

Historically, the Housing Corporation provided a rental subsidy with funding coming from in-lieu payments from developments such as condo conversions or the removal and non-replacement of housing stock.

Money also came from redevelopment agencies, which Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated in 2011.

Until recently the average subsidy fund balance was $700,000, which provided assistance for eight families.

There have been limited contributions to the fund in the last few years and none in the last fiscal year. With the current balance hovering at about $370,000, only five families are receiving aid.

Monthly expenditures average $4,160, or approximately $832 per family.

While the subsidies help with the overall affordability of housing, they do not contribute to the state-mandated affordable housing stock.

Del Mar is required to show it could provide 42 new low- or moderate-income units. That number includes a 15-unit penalty for not having a certified housing plan in the past, although the city has one now.

In August the Housing Corporation voted unanimously to request that City Council take decisive action to achieve Del Mar’s fair share of the regional affordable housing needs.

In addition to setting up the reserve fund and hiring a consultant, the organization asked the city to contribute money from the general fund to bring the subsidy balance back up to $700,000.

The $2 million fund would be used to develop or buy buildings with a dedicated number of

affordable units under city ownership or control.

Countryman said the city needs to be in a position to buy property when it becomes available.

“We can’t do that unless we have funds available to act quickly,” he said. “The opportunity is only there if we’re ready for it. The time is right to look at funding this kind of thing.”

The end game, he said, is to find brick-and-mortar products that would provide affordable housing for eligible families.

There are other sources of money, including tax credits, tax-exempt bond financing and county grants. But the latter is difficult because it’s competitive, Countryman said.

“They look for bang-for-the-buck in terms of how much and what you are obtaining with the funds,” he said. “It’s a little difficult in the city of Del Mar to compete on that level but because we have none and haven’t used any (grant money) in the past it’s a possibility.”

A consultant could identify properties that could be converted from apartments to condominiums, educate the owners and help with the negotiations.

Councilman Al Corti, whose background is in real estate, supports hiring a consultant to develop and implement a business plan.

He said a city goal to create 22 affordable units in five years “just through zone modifications or conversion credits … I don’t think is going to get us there.”

“I don’t think it’s just putting $2 million into a pot,” he added. “I think that’s not going to get it done either.”

“We want you to stop hiding the ball,” Emerson said. “Every council that I’ve known has figured out one way or another not to do something definitive in this area.

“It isn’t as though we’re trying to create something that doesn’t benefit our community,” he added. “We used to be a much more diverse community. Our kids used to be able to live here. They don’t live here now.

“People who work with us and for us cannot live here,” Emerson said. “Even the rental stock is beyond the capacity of middle-class people to live here. We’re just running out of opportunities for us to be a diverse community and it’s embarrassing to me and I would hope that it would be embarrassing to you as well.”

“It is appropriate that we take this a little bit more seriously,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said. “I would like to see this council actually make some progress on this. … I think we could do this pretty easily and put a feather in our cap for moving forward.”

“We have an aging senior population that will need help to age in place,” Councilman Dwight Worden said. “We need to set this goal and make it a priority and fund it …and build a nest egg that’s big enough to make some of these opportunities realistic.”

Staff members will present council with a budget and scope of work for a consultant at an upcoming meeting.

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