Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Omnipresent Bunny

It seems you can't take a step in a Foothill city without stepping on the infamous affordable housing bunny. Seen just yesterday in Bradbury, it was sighted in Pasadena today, by Joe Piasecki in the Pasadena Weekly. Apparently, affordable housing may soon be the only kind of housing one can build in the Central District.

In 1994, officials adopted the city's General Plan [link here], which capped growth in the Central District — an area stretching roughly from the 210 Freeway south the California Boulevard and from Pasadena Avenue east to Mentor Avenue — at 5,095 new units.

Housing created for rent or sale below market rates under the city's Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, however, is exempt from that total.

Since that time, developers have built or are building 3,147 market rate housing units, and an additional 1,536 have already petitioned for city approval, according to a report by City Manager Cynthia Kurtz.

Do the numbers and you realize, just a little over 400 units remain. Unless, of course, developers build affordable housing. Sounds perfect, right? Now countless new affordable units will be constructed.

Not quite. Building "affordable housing," from the developer's perspective, means selling or renting units "below market rates." While that doesn't necessarily mean at a complete loss, it also demonstrates the strong disincentive developers have to do so. Worse yet, affordable housing mandates can actually have the perverse effect of driving up the overall cost of housing.

There certainly are economic and social problems that can result from a lack of affordable housing (think the transportation woes when service employees have to commute). It's doubtful, however, that the affordable housing bunny is going to be able to solve this problem (for a good illustration of the challenges faced by developers in Pasadena, see the middle of this post). That, of course, hasn't prevented some housing advocates to get hopping mad.

Koebel has been critical of the council as quietly withdrawing support for low-income housing while pushing forward plans for the creation of workforce housing programs aimed at helping middle-class families, many of whom exceed the County's median income level, afford to buy homes.

“I'm not talking about this 120 percent of the median income bullshit. If you want to build above [the limit], you have to provide for the people of this city and develop low-income rental housing for people who make less than $40,000 per year for a family of four.

The housing crunch seems to be afflicting communities all across the Southland, but it doesn't seem like the affordable housing bunny has had any trouble burrowing in just about everywhere.

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