City goes back to drawing board

OCEANSIDE — City Council voted to repeal its current inclusionary housing code in a 3-1 vote on Feb. 23, in which Councilwoman Esther Sanchez voted no and Mayor Jim Wood was absent.
The vote sends city staff back to the drawing board to come up with builder incentives to help meet the city’s affordable housing goals.
“This is not to do away with the program,” Councilman Jerry Kern said. “The housing goals can be met with an incentive program.”
The nixed inclusionary housing code previously allowed builders to either build low-income housing or pay an in lieu fee. Builders consistently elected to pay the in lieu fee. The city leveraged these fees with bonds and other state and federal money and built or refurbished 344 long-term affordable housing units in the last 10 years.
Now with in lieu fees no longer an option, builders will have to work with nonprofit agencies to access the same funds.
The council decision may have painted the building community into a corner by nixing the option of paying in lieu fees.
“Builders used the in lieu fee as an escape hatch rather than building affordable housing,” Sanchez said.
“We are already in violation of our housing goals,” Sanchez added. “None of the affordable housing businesses are supporting this. It’s misguided.”
Kern criticized the present inclusionary housing code that allowed the city to build 241 new housing units in the last 10 years. “I think we can do better,” Kern said. “With incentives I think we can build more than 241 units. I think it’s a failed program.”
While Kern criticized current efforts he did not have suggestions for a new program. “We didn’t look at alternative programs,” Kern said.
“This is all news to us as well,” Borre Winckel, president and CEO of Building Industry Association of San Diego, said. “I want to solve the issue. Charge us to create affordable housing and we will rise to the occasion.”
Susan Tinsky, executive director of San Diego Housing Federation, said there are only a few incentives cities can use to help get inclusionary housing built. These include raising area building density, reducing parking requirements or creating an assessment fee such as a hotel occupancy tax. “They don’t have a lot of options,” Tinsky said.
More than 30 speakers shared their views. Many felt inclusionary housing was doomed without an alternate plan in place. Some said the elimination of the present code is “class warfare,” that will put the working poor, seniors, veterans, and disabled individuals at greater risk.
“I’m determining this as a direct threat,” Chris Megison, president and executive director of North County Solutions for Change, said. “We’re working with 20 Oceanside homeless families with 45 kids. They need more access to permanent affordable housing. Being a single mother and homeless with two kids is challenging enough.”
Several speakers shared personal accounts of how they have benefited from low cost inclusionary housing.
“I lost my home because of bad planning on my part,” Lilana Kuchinsky, Oceanside resident, said. “Please give them the chance I have received. I am employed and do pay my taxes. I still worry about the future for my family. My husband is on disability. His pay is cut in half. We all deserve some help to get us back on the right track.”
Others called for more restrictions.
“In these times of tight budgets I think everybody should pay their share,” Cathy Hamilton, an Oceanside resident, said.
A new plan on how to provide inclusionary housing for buyers and renters will be brought to council within 90 days.
The challenges that the city faces in putting together an inclusionary housing plan include limited available land and building costs. “The problem is the land is so limited,” Margery Pierce, neighborhood services director, said.
“Money is available for affordable housing,” Pierce added. “State money is all in the rental industry.”
Guidelines are in place to make inclusionary housing a long-term community resource. Buyers and renters must meet income guidelines. For homebuyers the long-term equity on an inclusionary house is restricted and the house must be sold to another moderate-income family.
“Affordable housing is for our children, grandchildren, teachers, seniors,” Sanchez said. “It does not mean a free ride.”

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