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Inclusionary housing not so inclusive

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The average house in San Luis Obispo County sells for about $500,000. In an attempt to put more moderate- to extremely low-income residents in homes, the county will soon require that there is at least some affordable housing in new developments. They call it inclusionary housing but the catch is that inclusionary housing isn’t always included.

The county Planning Commission approved an inclusionary housing ordinance in a 3-2 vote on July 24. The new code, however, gives developers a fair amount of leeway over whether to include the units onsite, offsite, or to simply pay an in-lieu fee.

As it stands, the county will require 20 percent of the units in new developments to be affordable for people in the extremely low- to moderate-income brackets. A person of extremely low income in SLO makes about $15,000 per year, for example.

While the county encourages onsite affordable units, it is not mandatory. The incentive to build all affordable units onsite is a 25 percent reduction in the total units required.

If the developer decides to pay a fee rather than build the units, homeowners could get stuck with the bill. Fees get triggered by building permits when there is a lot subdivision and no construction plans. As the code stands, a 2,000-square-foot home comes with a $19,000 inclusionary housing fee. The Board of Supervisors still needs to weigh in before the code is final.

Commissioner Sarah Christie, who voted against the ordinance along with Commissioner Bob Roos, said the ordinance pandered to the building community at the cost of onsite housing.

“This is the bar we have set for San Luis Obispo [County] and I think it is abysmally low,” she said.

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