How to Get Affordable Housing Built

The Question:

How will your yes vote on R ENSURE affordable housing will get built in Healdsburg?  Why do you think so little has been built in the past 5-6 years?  Should the land/home values remain high, what would you specifically do to encourage developers to build affordable housing?

My Answers:

Let’s be clear, I have no illusions that the approval of Measure R will suddenly result in a wave of affordable housing construction.  I simply believe that we need as many tools and as less friction as possible to address the problem, and I feel Measure R provides tools and reduces friction in a way that is compatible with our values.

As for the reasons behind the scarcity of affordable housing…

Healdsburg has experienced a near perfect storm of circumstances that has significantly impacted housing:

  • Our success at promoting our desirable qualities magnified by the communication energy of the Web which has increased demand for owning property here, which obviously results in higher prices

  • Our easy proximity to one of the most wealthy regions in the history of humanity, which enables property buyers to spend unusual amounts of cash on property purchases, which raises prices even further AND puts borrowers at a disadvantage in the sales negotiation process

  • Our firm resolve to preserve our urban growth boundary, which physically limits the supply of residential parcels available for the construction of new housing

  • The loss of Redevelopment Agency funds which have traditionally been used to invest in the construction of affordable housing

 

The flip side of our situation is the truth that there is plenty of money to be made by building housing here, even for housing that is affordable to 120-160% of area median income.  We need to be more aggressive about pursuing all options.

Some specific ideas I have in mind:

  • Explore a “socially entrepreneurial” approach to housing - for example,  the creation of a local community land trust fund, similar to the Housing Land Trust of Sonoma County, which would be a conduit for money to be invested toward the purchase of & re-lease parcels and for the construction of affordable housing
  • Increase the density potential and therefore affordability of residential development by increasing maximum height limits
  • Make investment in housing more palatable than investment in hotels by increasing the friction of hotel development - for example, by requiring greater community benefits, such as greater public access to facilities, realistic parking capacity, minimum LEED certification and per-room monitoring of water use 

The problem of expanding access to affordable housing is big and complex - and it requires a range of strategies to solve it.

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Vacation Rentals and Second Homes

The Question:

You state that you want to review the city policy on vacation rentals and second homes.  What would you change in the policy that would result in limiting them? How would you ensure it is enacted?

My Answers:

The overall goal of focusing on the question of vacation rentals and second homes is to increase the supply of properties that can be used as primary residences.

The specific goals would be to

  • Encourage property owners to rent their properties to long-term residents
  • Discourage the practice of renting to more lucrative short-term vacationers
  • Limit the conversion of primary residences to 2nd or even 3rd homes.   

Regarding vacation rentals...

One of the easiest actions is to more actively enforce the existing "30 day" minimum rental policy - perhaps as one of the duties of my "Affordable Housing Czar" (the idea for a role that would be funded by the TOT tax).  

I also want to review the rule itself.  As it stands one could technically rent a property for 30 days even though the tenant technically does not have to occupy it during those 30 days.  One could potentially play with the rules and “officially” rent a property for 30 days at an artificially low daily price - with the same income as renting it for a week.  Therefore the 30 day rule does not necessarily prevent vacation rentals.  I would like to pursue other ways to determine residence status - perhaps by evaluating water or electricity usage patterns against expected patterns.

Regarding second or third homes…  

Many feel that the sharp increase in the number of homes that are being purchased as second or third homes - and the resulting decrease in the number of actual residents - is one of the biggest threats to our sense of community.  

However the problem is very tricky to address, for several reasons.  

First is the reality of the capitalist system.  One of the bedrocks of that system is the freedom of private property owners to use their property as they see fit.  Moreover, many "second homes" are actually rental properties - and we don't want to discourage investors who could help to increase the supply of these rentals.  Finally, while some folks might keep 2nd homes, it is also true that these same folks may eventually move here in the future and become very important members of the community.

All that being said, I do believe this issue has a significant impact on the fabric of our community and it demands attention.  

I’d like to explore the possibility of a title transfer tax on non-primary residences, proceeds from which would be invested in a fund that would subsidize below-market-rate rentals, either for existing residents that have been evicted for no cause or for employees of local businesses.

I would also like to consider the feasibility of zoning rules that limit the number of "empty houses" in the same way that we limit the number of winery tasting rooms - some kind of rule that attempts to prevent an "overabundance" of homes that are not being used for primary residences.

I understand it's a difficult question and I should emphasize that I am sympathetic to the concerns of property owners, but I also feel that this is a big issue that should not simply be shrugged away.

 

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Zoning and Code Changes

The Question:

Regarding “Expanding residential zoning areas to avoid lengthy amendment processes” - Expand residential zoning areas to where & how specifically would you amend?”

My Answers:

Zoning in general is a hugely important and powerful tool that a city can use to define its physical character.  However it can also serve to stifle innovation and increase development time - which leads to higher costs for housing.  

Regarding the amendment process in general...  I would like to work with the Planning Department to figure out an expedited zoning variance review system for "affordable" housing projects that a) is transparent, b) is fair (and legally defensible!) and c) rewards thoughtfulness, creativity and compassion (not just money.  For example, I want to see it easier for a developer to implement creative mitigating factors, like integrating a Zipcar lot into a project's parking infrastructure, instead of simply allowing them to "buy off" their parking requirements.

Regarding specific building code amendments…  I also will pursue the revision of the current 40’ height limit on residential construction to match the current 50’ height limit for commercial constructions.  This expansion will essentially allow the construction of an additional story from 3 to 4, effectively increasing the potential space by ⅓.  For example:  Given 10 units per floor, with the first floor dedicated to parking, this change would increase the number of potential units from 20 to 30.  In addition to increasing the number of units, the result would be more units per acre, which would also reduce the overall cost of the project.  And of course lower cost means lower price.

Regarding zoning... I would pursue the idea of converting some, if not all, of the existing mixed-use zones (where appropriate) to a zone type that would allow residential and commercial use EXCEPT hotels.

 

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Residential Design Guidelines

The question:  

What specifically would you change in the Residential Design Guidelines? What specifically will you do to ensure the change happens when you are elected?

My Answers:

I favor urban design that is human-centric, design that supports the feeling that the individual person matters more than things. For example, making human-scaled features, like a small garden with a walking path and a some kind of entry portal like a gate or an arch, be the primary physically interaction with a house instead of a car-focused feature like a garage.  Another way of saying this: Integrate pedestrian and bike access into a design BEFORE thinking about cars.

But that's just MY opinion.  Important documents that have a big impact on the community, like the Design Guidelines and zoning in general, should evolve with lively input from the community.  I would like to bring ideas of "open source" software development into the design guidelines review process.  With this model, the entire community of stakeholders contributes ideas, and the job of the a smaller group of project leaders (which in city government is typically served by a Committee) is entrusted with curating that input, incorporating the ideas presented, and "committing" it into the working model.

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