Placer County sets new goal for affordable housing construction, releases new rules for mixed housing

Sierra Sun staff

Geared to address a growing crisis of housing affordability, the Placer County Board of Supervisors approved a series of new initiatives aimed at kickstarting construction of 2,640 new affordable homes over the next 20 years.

In order to eventually meet Placer’s state obligation for new affordable housing units, the board approved funding for the implementation of a new pilot program to accelerate affordable housing construction and directed staff to work with stakeholders to consider creation of a new private housing trust to close an expected funding gap to build them.

Placer County already manages a public housing trust, filled by developer fees that are used to help fund a variety of affordable housing projects and existing housing programs. According to a news release, a private trust would offer more flexibility to accept and incentivize private donations and fewer restrictions on the use of funds, providing more opportunities for the private sector to contribute to housing solutions.

“Housing is an acute issue throughout much of the county, and many feel it is a crisis in Tahoe,” said Supervisor Cindy Gustafson, who represents District 5. “I’d like the county to lead by example. We need to look at how we can reduce fees, how we can streamline approvals, and provide land and funding for affordable housing construction

According to the release, more than 79% of extremely low income households are paying over half of their income on housing costs compared to just 5% of moderate income households, according to a recent report on Placer County by the California Housing Partnership.

The federal definition of housing affordability is spending no more than 30% of gross income for total housing costs.

Affordable housing projects typically cost more to build than the restricted rents they can charge will cover, with responsibility for closing the cost gap often falling to local governments — on average about $100,000 per unit, according to a recent Placer-commissioned study by BAE Urban Economics.

Based on housing need projections, and with a goal of meeting Placer’s regional housing needs obligation, Placer would start a new pilot program with $500,000 as seed money from the county general fund, then ramp up annual funding from a variety of sources, including the new private trusts, to $2.39 million a year as resources become available.

Placer’s new housing goal is to eventually ensure that 10% of all housing built in unincorporated areas of the county is affordable; resulting in 30 affordable units a year based on current projections of 300 new home construction starts annually.

In addition to those, initial efforts would be focused on meeting the housing needs of Placer residents facing the highest cost burden for housing; representing about 5% of the current housing stock of 40,886 units in unincorporated areas of the county.

Together, Placer County’s goal amounts to 132 affordable units a year, or 2,640 over the next 20 years.


Last week the county also released a notice of preparation of an environmental impact report for proposed changes in the housing code which would allow for a greater mix of housing.

“We’ve heard from our residents that they want greater variety and more affordable housing options like small duplex and triplex units, and even tiny houses and accessory dwelling units,” said Shawna Purvines, principal planner with Placer’s Community Development Resource Agency. “Our housing regulations need to evolve to accommodate these changing needs, but in harmony with existing communities.”

Several zoning changes are being proposed to encourage more ‘town center’ type live-work communities, as well as adding new standards for emerging community types like cottage housing, co-housing and open space-oriented communities.

New tiny house rules are also on the table. Homes smaller than 450 square feet, a typical definition of a tiny house, are already allowed on fixed foundations. In this update, Placer proposes to allow tiny houses on wheels as primary or secondary dwelling units, or as part of tiny house communities.

The changes are available for public comment until Sept. 27. Final proposed changes are expected to be brought in front of the Placer County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors in summer 2020.

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