Dwight Worden | City Council Member
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State law requires Del Mar to provide new affordable housing. Like it or not, this state obligation is mandatory. According to the state, as reflected in our Housing Element, Del Mar needs to provide 12 units at the extremely low, very low, and low income levels, and 49 at the moderate to above moderate income levels. But is affordable housing just something being forced down our throats by the state? I think not.
Providing affordable places to live in Del Mar for our seniors, for our firefighters, young families with children, students, schoolteachers, and others in the middle class contributes positively to the fabric of our community. Now, we have two predominant populations in Del Mar: a declining population of those who bought a long time ago at affordable prices, and those coming recently and paying very high prices. The former group are aging and are often house rich but money poor, living on Social Security or other retirement income. It can be a challenge for these folks to “age in place” and maintain their homes as viable housing for their changing needs. We need to create options for them to stay, and that is one of the key goals of our housing programs.
The ability to afford to move to Del Mar now overwhelmingly favors the retired wealthy. Typically, with some exceptions for the younger wealthy, they are the only demographic able to absorb the high costs. While these new residents are welcome and often take on valued community roles, they reflect less diversity in terms of age, family status, and income levels. If we value keeping Del Mar vibrant and healthy, we need to counter that trend, at least in the modest way contemplated by our Housing Element. This is something we should be doing regardless of state mandates.
We have a Housing Element now that addresses these issues and that has already been approved by the state. I call it Plan A. But, we also face a ballot measure this November that may preclude implementation of key portions of that Housing Element. Thus, the conundrum: Where do we stand, and what do we do, if the voters prevent implementation of Plan A? Answer: We need a Plan B. Before delving into Plan B, though, let’s review some basics, distilling a very complex system to its essentials.
The state has adopted an overall goal to provide decent, safe, housing for all economic segments. To achieve this goal the state requires that housing be inventoried in each community. Then, taking into account population and demographics, regional and local housing needs are identified, i.e. the numbers and types of housing needed to meet current and projected populations are identified. Each city is then allocated its “fair share” to help the region meet overall needs. In Del Mar it is no surprise that we are doing fine at providing housing at the upper end of the price spectrum and falling short at the affordable end.
The state has created the following categories of affordable housing, all based around how much a family should spend on its housing costs as a percent of the median income for the area (AMI).
Extremely Low Income: Households earning up to 30 percent of the AMI, ($16,900 for a one-person household and up to $26,050 for a five-person household in 2012).
Very Low Income: Households earning between 31 and 50 percent of the AMI, ($28,150 for a one-person household and up to $43,400 for a five-person household in 2012).
Low Income: Households earning between 51 percent and 80 percent of the AMI, ($45,000 for a one-person household and up to $69,400 for a five-person household in 2012).
Moderate Income: Households earning between 81 percent and 120 percent of the AMI, ($98,400), depending on household size, in 2012.
Above Moderate Income: Households earning over 120 percent of the AMI.
Combined, the extremely low, very low, and low income groups are referred to as lower income.
Buying or renting a home in Del Mar is beyond the reach of persons and families with income levels even in the Moderate and Above Moderate Income categories, the two highest categories. The maximum affordable home price for a moderate income household is $267,000 for a one-person household and $395,000 for a five-person family. Good luck buying something in Del Mar at that price! The maximum affordable rent payment for moderate income households is between $1,554 and $2,366 per month.
To meet our state mandated goals as set out in our Housing Element Del Mar needs to provide the following number of new units:
Extremely low: 4 units
Very Low: 3 units
Low: 5 units
Moderate: 15 units
Above moderate: 34 units
Total: 61 units
Current state policy relies primarily on private market incentives to meet our housing goals. It relies on mandated increases in density as the way to lower costs. Here’s the rub: increasing density brings real local problems of traffic congestion, crowding, loss of community character, and so on. Yet, in places like Del Mar where the supply and demand curve is so far out of balance, adding more new units still leaves demand way higher than supply and is unlikely to produce affordable housing or to meet state goals. At a gut level we know this to be true. Implementing state policy in a small coastal town like Del Mar is likely to add significant density without achieving much affordable housing.
The state strategy may work in large inland communities like Riverside where vacant land is available and where supply and demand can be better balanced, but not in expensive, small, built out coastal towns like Del Mar where land costs are so high. Once again, I find myself frustrated that the state has imposed a “one size fits all” approach to a complex issue.
Traditionally, the state does not control housing density. Density and development rules are controlled by local zoning. To implement its “market approach,” however, the governor and state are now passing laws usurping local control and dictating that local zoning must change to increase density and remove impediments to building more housing. What the state calls “impediments” we at the local level perceive to be important tools, such as environmental review and density limits. The state’s intrusion into what has traditionally been controlled locally through zoning has started a war, reflected in the many local initiatives qualifying for the ballot.
These ballot measures would purport to allow local voters to override these state-driven mandates. Such measures are on the ballot, not only in Del Mar, but also in Costa Mesa, Santa Monica, Cupertino, Gilroy, El Dorado, and Los Angeles. One has already passed in Encinitas. It remains to be seen if these local initiative measures will be upheld in the courts. There are real issues about the ability to override state policy by local initiative. Our city attorney has raised issues in this regard about Del Mar’s ballot measure. What you can count on, however, is fierce ongoing efforts by locals to protect the towns they live in from the perceived assault from the state—especially where the locals perceive that a market approach produces more density and its attendant local problems but not necessarily more affordable housing. How do we crack this conundrum?