Placer County moving toward affordable housing plan | SierraSun.com

Placer County moving toward affordable housing plan

Christina Nelson

Placer County may be on the road to making the Sierra Nevada region a more affordable place to live for its workers.

Besides the discussion and adoption of the housing element required by the county’s general plan update, draft inclusionary housing and employee housing ordinances were introduced and debated at the Nov. 14 Placer County planning commission meeting.

The commission and county planners encountered opposition to the ordinances, which would require developers to include affordable housing as part of future development.

The employee housing ordinance, which applies specifically to the North Lake Tahoe region, requires that 50 percent of the employees generated by a project be provided with workforce housing.

The ordinances identify a “hierarchy” of county preferences for affordable housing – requiring that developers first consider on-site housing, followed by off-site housing, dedication of land for construction of the units and payment of an in-lieu fee.

Developer Ron Parr, of DMC Highlands Group and Lahontan LLC, said the commission needs to take more time to consider the housing element.

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“There are lots of potential solutions to a very complicated problem,” he said.

Although building industry representatives and developers argued against the ordinance, saying that new-home buyers would get stuck with the bill for the affordable units, others applauded the county’s effort to incorporate affordable housing in County planning policy.

“So far we haven’t had to make comments on the Placer County housing element because we’ve been so impressed with the progress in the housing element that supports affordable housing,” said Herb Whitaker, an attorney with Legal Services of Northern California.

When an employee housing ordinance is adopted, developers can request that the county provide incentives, such as fee waivers, modification of development standards and density bonuses that would allow the developer to build more units that do not generate an inclusionary or employee housing obligation.

The employee housing ordinance would only apply to the region east of Blue Canyon.

The inclusionary housing ordinance, a separate document, would apply to all of Placer County, and would require 15 percent of newly-constructed residential units be sold to low-, very low- and moderate-income households.

The county’s preference for on-site affordable housing also encountered some opposition.

Although he praised the housing element and proposed ordinances as something the county “ought” to do, planning commissioner Mike Stafford said it’s “not very American” to mix affordable units in with higher-end developments.

“I think we’re trying to create a world here where everything is demographically mixed,” Stafford said.

But commissioner Judy Creek noted that if affordable housing isn’t a priority in Placer County, it will not happen.

“The argument no one wants to talk about is, ‘I have a $9 million house and I don’t want to buy a house next to a school teacher who home schools her children,'” she said.

“I think you need a firm structure,” Creek said. “If we don’t do this, we can’t support sheriffs, we can’t support librarians.”

Although the Placer County Housing Element was recommended by the planning commission, it still needs to be adopted by the Board of Supervisors.

The draft employee and inclusionary housing ordinances are still up for public discussion.