Dear Friends and Aligned Organizations,
Can you imagine if new development in Placer County was priced to meet the needs of working people and located in a way that we could access our jobs and meet our needs without getting in our cars? We can imagine it and together we can make it happen.
What’s Happening: The Draft of Placer County’s Housing Element has been written by a team of consultants and is now being reviewed by the State Office of Housing and Community Development (as I write). Our Housing Element is the road map for our housing future for the next decade. Join us in inviting the County and State to use the Housing Element Update process to undertake a big picture analysis of the deleterious effects of low density sprawl on overall community and environmental well-being; as reflected in the housing-affordability crisis and our dangerously poor air-quality. And then there’s the elephant in the room: with sprawl we lose the calculable ecosystem service-values provided by our carbon sequestering grasslands and forests.
What to do: We’d like you to write a letter to CA State Office of Housing and Community development, Megan Kirkeby, Deputy Director Email: [email protected] to explain that, as conceived, the Placer County Housing Element Update fails its citizens and tell them why. Cut and paste from the content below if you wish.
Background: The Alliance for Environmental Leadership (AEL) is a coalition of 16 environmental and civic organizations in Placer and Nevada Counties. We are working to reframe the way our community grows through citizen advocacy that amplifies the voices for smart growth housing and environmental justice. We produced the Citizen Initiated Smart Growth Plan (CISGP); which pulls back the curtain on housing development in Placer County and reveals that over a period of many decades, the majority of our citizens have experienced economic discrimination, rooted largely in the homogeny of the price-y, single family housing-product that sprawls across our formerly green fields. The Housing Element contributes in a large way to this.
Placer County is confronting two big problems that are interrelated. These are our air quality and our dearth of affordable housing. Both promise to deny Placer County residents a safe and healthy future. You may know that western Placer County’s is the fifth worst air quality region in the nation due to our auto dependent land use patterns and among Ca counties, we rank among the worst for provision of affordable housing.
Over the past two years, Placer County invited citizens to meetings, to provide written comments and to participate in public hearings on the Update of the Housing Element. We dutifully did this, but not one significant citizen suggestion was incorporated in the Draft Housing Element update – which is now being reviewed by the CA State Office of Housing and Community Development. In good faith, we exercised our civil rights; but were denied real, meaningful participation.
Nearly nine of every 10 people you interact with each day in Placer County qualifies for affordable housing; not because they are necessarily low income, but because the housing product that is available here is unaffordable to them. As was demonstrated in our Citizen Initiated Smart Growth Plan Phase 2, the median income for for a 4 person Placer County family is $76,100 annually. An affordable home (one for which no more than 30% of income must be dedicated to housing) for this same family is priced at $282,374. The average Placer County sale price for a home in 2018 was $570,000, an affordability of gap of $287,626. COVID has had an astonishing upward price impact on housing, so these stats. do not accurately reflect the current situation.
Through the Housing Element, Placer County allows developers to scapegoat their responsibility to provide achievable housing in a myriad of ways. That is why you see our rural county transformed to low-density high cost sprawl. It is easier and cheaper and more profitable to build in developer-friendly Placer County than the incorporated cities. Ironically, Placer County citizens deeply subsidize the very low-density sprawl that they cannot afford. Since 2013-2020, Placer County has enabled developers to produce only 7.2% of its regional obligation to produce homes for people with very low/extremely low, low and moderate incomes ($77,000 yr.) under Placer’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation and 99% of its obligation for above moderate income housing. As written, the Placer County Housing Element update will allow this pattern of practice to continue.
Among the issues we would like to discuss with HCD are:
The 10% rule It excludes 87% of our working families from the housing market. 90% of the homes developers build are affordable to for13% of our community (affordable is spending no more than 30% of income on housing). Developers can avoid even the 10% responsibility by paying a small fee of $2.00 per square foot for a home – even though the actual cost to build the home is $250-400 + psf. The in lieu fee is insufficient to allow anyone else to build the affordable home that the developer isn’t building. What’s the point?
Exclusion for development projects of 100 units or less: In the past four years, only one project in Placer County has been both over 100 units and not a Specific Plan. So the affordability components of this Housing Element Update are being written for a sliver of the total units produced in Placer County each year.
Exclusion for Specific Plans: The Housing Element update allows Specific Plan to concentrate affordable units and locate them in the least desirable locations and on the sites that will be the last to be built. This is exactly what happened with the Placer Ranch project now being challenged by the Center for Biological Diversity.
In-Lieu Fee: Developers can buy their way out of building any affordable housing for only $2.00 per square foot under the proposed Housing Element Update. So you’re a developer and if you build an affordable home you’ll have to sell it for $287,000 less than a conventional home in your development or pay $2.00 psf ($5,500). What would you do?
Commercial Nexus: We asked the County to include a nexus program to link new commercial projects approvals and housing for workers – priced to house future workers. The Carvana project which the County approved this year will bring 850 low wage workers to the County and has no responsibility to provide housing to accommodate them.
Urban Sprawl: As conceived, the Housing Element Update does not adequately incentivise infill development and redevelopment; but it absolutely enables sprawl. Our very lives depend upon taking immediate and bold action to stop natural resource consumption and protecting our remaining open spaces which are literally our last hope for survival. We must preserve them and the species they support because our lives depend on it.
Let’s raise our voices for fair, accessible, achievable, affordable housing for all. Contact HCD’s Deputy Director at the address above before Feb. 11th. Our Housing Element is intended to ensure that decent, safe and affordable shelter is provided for all residents. It is our Housing Element. Let’s make it work for us!
Leslie Warren, Chair
Alliance for Environmental Leadership