2017-03-17 / Editorials

Let’s address affordable housing crisis before state does

The Gov. Jerry Brown-led Legislature is sending a clear message to California cities: Address your lack of affordable housing, or we’ll address it for you.

The most obvious warning came last year, when Brown tacked onto his May budget revise a trailer bill that aimed to strip away the ability of municipal governments to challenge residential proposals that included a certain number of below-market-rate units. The bill said developers promising to provide affordable housing could receive “over-the-counter” land-use entitlements: no public hearings, no conditional-use permits and, in some cases, no environmental review.

Although the bill was dropped prior to adoption of the budget, it was a wake-up call to cities that Sacramento intends to wrest away local control of this matter.

The capital’s latest mandate to address the state’s housing crisis concerns detached accessory dwelling units, better known as “granny flats.” These tiny homes built within an existing property line are referred to as such because they’re meant to be occupied by a family member, such as an elderly parent or a child returning from college.

Proponents say granny flats provide additional income for a homeowner, especially one on a fixed income, and reasonable rates for renters. Opponents say too many granny flats can ruin the character of a neighborhood.

Under the law, municipalities like Camarillo cannot impose stricter rules and regulations than those allowed by the state, nor can they require the homeowner to pay for separate water and sewer hookups. As for parking, the city cannot require the applicant to provide more than one space per bedroom.

While we agree something must be done to make the cost of housing more reasonable, we don’t like the notion of Sacramento tying the hands of our local officials. What makes this overreach all the more frustrating is that it was Brown himself who six years ago took away the greatest engine for affordable housing that cities possessed: redevelopment agencies.

Were there instances of abuse involving RDAs? Absolutely. But in a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, Brown completely disassembled a system that had proved successful in doing at least one thing: subsidizing below-market-rate residential developments in affluent areas.

Without RDAs, the creation of new affordable units in many cities is at a near standstill.

The answer to the affordable housing quandary won’t come in a one-size-fits-all approach.

One thing is certain, though: A few more granny flats won’t be a panacea for the ever-shrinking number of places for young professionals and the retired to live. The long-term solution will take time as well as open minds that consider a wide range of possibilities.

But if we don’t start acting now, the state may very well make the decision for us.

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