The SLO County Board of Supervisors voted on Dec. 12 to maintain the status quo when it comes to affordable housing, at least for now.
During the hearing, supervisors debated whether to change up the county's inclusionary housing ordinance, which basically requires developers to produce a percentage of affordable housing with any projects they build or pay an in-lieu fee into a fund that is set aside for nonprofit builders to leverage. After a discussion that almost bordered on compromise, the board essentially opted not to do anything in a typical 3-2 vote, with 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson and 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill in the minority.
"I'm not giving up on it," 1st District Supervisor John Peschong told New Times. "I think Adam Hill was right that the ultimate goal is not to get the builders to pay the fee but to build the house, I think that's correct. ... But we've got to get everybody on board. Hopefully that's incentive enough to get everybody back to the board."
Adopted in 2008, the ordinance was designed to ramp up over a five-year period to a requirement that either 15 percent of units in a new development are set aside as affordable or the developer pays an in-lieu fee of $3.75 per square foot. But things are currently stuck on year two: 6 percent of units or $1.50 per square foot. A nexus study presented to the board on Dec. 12 recommends, among other things, tiering the inclusionary housing fee to the size of the unit that's being built and exempting any home that's less than 1,600 square feet in size.
It's something that almost everyone who spoke during public comment, including developers, supported. Although people such as RRM Design's Victor Montgomery put a caveat on that backing.
The ordinance was crafted to be "a tool in the toolbox of affordable housing. Ten years later, it is the tool in the toolbox of affordable housing. We haven't added anything," Montgomery said during the meeting. "I believe we need a much broader base of support funding for these programs."
Peschong said he voted the way he did because he was hoping for more of a public dialogue on the "multiple discussion topics" broached at the meeting before the board gives staff final direction on the issue. Those include things like the square footage of the houses that can be exempt, currently pegged at 900 square feet or smaller; what size of commercial development should be required to pay a housing impact fee; whether the county should offer an affordable housing bond; and how the county can ensure homebuyers can build equity when they purchase a deed-restricted home.
Gibson, who suggested two different motions to move a tiered approach forward, believes the nuts and bolts of a new inclusionary housing ordinance could have included public discussion if the board had given county staff direction to come back with a new version of the inclusionary housing ordinance. County planning staff told supervisors that they weren't going to be able to put a new discussion on the agenda until April, which Gibson believed was plenty of time.
"What I was trying to do was help guide the process so that when we went out to the public, we had something specific to receive comment on," Gibson told New Times. "It's the same thing. Put out a bunch of options or put out one option and get public comment on it. The public will say what they're going to say."
While he said he is absolutely on board with discussing the topic again, he was disappointed in the outcome of the board's discussion on Dec. 12, because rather than move things forward, supervisors just left things where they are. During the discussion, Gibson advocated for having separate discussions for things like an affordable housing bond and ways to build equity in deed-restricted homes.
"We have the time to do the community outreach; we have time to do some thinking. I think that would be a very positive move in terms of making some progress on this issue," he said at the meeting. "The lynchpin of all of this, I think, is the inclusionary housing ordinance." Δ