Throughout the 2018-19 school year, the first year that a four-story apartment building at 22 Chorro St. in SLO was open for business (mostly to college students), its four units set aside for "very low income" renters sat vacant.
Those affordable studios—while critical to the 78-unit project being approved as designed (taller and denser than local zoning usually allows)—went unfilled all year, angering local residents who opposed the development and the city's concessions.
- File Photo By Jayson Mellom
- RENTED After a nearly yearlong vacancy that drew public criticism, four affordable apartments at 22 Chorro Street (pictured under construction) are now rented.
"Who is responsible for establishing eligibility for the low-income units and for making sure they are not manipulated? We need accountability," SLO resident Odile Ayral wrote to the City Council in January 2019.
Developer Loren Riehl—who has two other similar projects forthcoming on Foothill Boulevard and Palomar Avenue—told New Times on July 2 that his firm struggled to understand the process behind renting the affordable units, like income certifications, and to find tenants that met the income requirements.
Very-low-income renters must make between 30 and 50 percent of the area median income to qualify for that type of housing. Income certifications are done through a third-party agency, like the Housing Authority of SLO (HASLO), and the city of SLO runs a compliance monitoring program.
"There was a pretty steep learning curve in figuring out how all this correctly works," Riehl said. "Now we have it figured out."
Scott Smith, executive director of HASLO, told New Times that the agency has completed income certifications for three of the four very-low-income renters at the complex—all since May 2019. He said HASLO had previously reached out to apartment management about helping advertise or manage the affordable units since they weren't getting filled.
"When we inquired why they weren't sending over people, they said their priority was to rent the market units first," Smith said. "It wouldn't have been hard to fill these. There are plenty of people who need them."
Riehl said that his staff remembers a different series of events with HASLO, and that ultimately the lapse was a matter of learning the ropes of affordable housing. He said the waitlist for the four affordable studios at 22 Chorro is now at 30 people.
"We would have zero incentive to not fill them if we could," he said. "My confidence is that going forward these are going to be very quick and easy." Δ