By Chris Frost
Oxnard-- During a special meeting of the Oxnard City Council, Oct. 29, the body received a presentation from the California Housing Legislation, the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) and heard about housing policies and programs.
Council members discussed new housing and programs along with its implementation and offered feedback to the staff.
Community Development Director Jeffrey Lambert led off the presentation and apologized because the information is dense in nature.
He wanted to frame the impacts the housing policy has before the city updates its housing element in 2020 that will take 18 months to complete. Providing the information to the council early without the need for any action, he felt, would be useful.
“We’re going to explain to the council what a housing element is, and we’re going to try and frame the issues before you in future housing policies,” he said. “We’ll talk about how we’ve performed under the current housing element and what we’ve accomplished based on the housing element that is now the rule of law in our community.”
He also advised the council that new housing bills are coming from Sacramento, and the report impacts the city’s housing and land use policies and actions.
“The governor signed a bunch of them that we outlined in your report,” he said. “We’ll talk about how that impacts us locally.”
Planning and Environmental Services Manager Kathleen Mallory started with a review of what a housing element is, and she called it one element of the general plan. Every city and county must have a general plan and housing element. Every eight years, the housing element gets updated.
“Within the housing element, you’re required to go through policies and programs to address five various housing types, which are divided by income categories,” she said. “Those income categories are set by the federal government.”
The five categories are: extremely low, very low, low, moderate, or above moderate.
“That’s a percentage of the county’s area median income, or what we refer to as AMI,” Mallory said. “AMI is the household income for the middle within the region. The city must have a plan to accommodate all the housing income categories over that eight-year window. In addition, the cities and counties have to have sites identified to accommodate those various housing types by income category that I mentioned.”
Most people think the housing element only deals with houses and how many are going to be constructed, she said, but it also identifies policies and programs explicitly assisting people with disabilities, the elderly, large families, single-parent families, farmworkers, families, people needing emergency housing, and the homeless needs and sheltering.
“The program initiatives are important,” she said. “We’ll set up policies and programs on how we can deal with that within the housing element.”
Mallory said they wanted to focus on affordable housing, and she presented a table from the city’s website that defines what is affordable housing and who qualifies for affordable housing.
“In 2019, a four-person household would be considered in the very low-income category if they made between $52,300 up to $56,500 per year,” she said. “Those are dental workers, your office assistants, and your crossing guards. In looking at the 2009 Ventura County income limits, those get changed and evaluated every year, and it identifies what it looks like.”
She offered another example and said a dental assistant making $30 per hour who is married with four children would technically be considered very low income if that person has a single-income family.
“Ventura County has one of the highest housing costs and a lack of inventory,” she said. “It’s getting more competitive and steeply-priced.”
In 2017 and 2019, Mallory said the state issued a lot of housing bills that would incentivize communities that were doing their fair share to construct affordable housing. The state also penalized cities that did not build their fair share of affordable housing.
“The bills strengthened the Housing Accountability Act, along with generating funds for local planning efforts,” she said. “In the planning profession, we were excited that there is now funding sources to plan for housing and do long-range planning. Typically, that has not been available to jurisdictions and counties.”
In 2019, 18 housing bills came out just before the staff report was due, she said, and Mallory focused on five bills specifically designed and written to encourage constructing accessory dwelling units. An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is a small separate housing unit either on the grounds of a primary residence or attached to the home.
“We’re still evaluating those ADU’s, but it’s clear that our ADU ordinance will need to be updated,” she said. “Additionally, AB881 requires a streamlined review and the elimination of the agency’s ability to require owner-occupied ADU units for five years. That is a new provision of the ADU bill. Another important ADU bill is AB 587, which is exemptions for affordable housing organizations to sell deed-restricted land to eligible low-income homeowners. AB113 requires more analysis but lowers and reduces approval time frames and ensures that cities are following ADU statutes.”
From there, Mallory focused on AB1763, which means the city needs to update its density bonus ordinance.
“With that, we would be granting density bonuses for 100 percent affordable projects and adding 80 percent density to it,” she said. “In addition, we would be removing and mandated by state law any parking standards for those projects that are within a quarter-mile of transit with a substantial curtailing of the city’s permit authority.”
The housing element is guided by an eight-year planning cycle, the RHNA, and the housing element was certified by HCD (The California Department of Housing and Community Development) and approved in 2014.
“As part of the fifth cycle covering the planning period 2013 through 2021, the city received an RHNA allocation of 7,301 housing units,” she said. “In total, the county received 19,158. As a comparison, the city received over 32 percent of the allocation, although the city only represents only 25 percent of the county’s population. As part of the city’s 2018 annual report, which is a report on how the city is doing in constructing affordable housing, the city did a good job of meeting its housing needs. We reported that we’ve constructed over that time frame since 2013, 5,244 housing units of our 7,301 units.”
To compare, the city’s fourth RHNA Cycle was 7,000 units.
“If development continues strong, utilizes the Affordable Housing Opportunity Program and continues to receive construction though our Accessory Dwelling Unit Program, we’ll be in good shape to meet our housing construction mandates,” she said.
One program Mallory pointed out that gets little attention is the city-owned site identification and sales, and the city is looking at disposal right now.
“That’s a program that’s specified and encouraged in the housing element,” she said. “Parcel assemblage is the merger of affordable housing sites and the removal of permit barriers to advance that. We’ve already talked about our need to update our accessory dwelling unit ordinance to comply with the newly adopted laws. The same is true with the density bonus, as well. Those are both programs reflected in our housing element.”
Currently, the city is working on a permanent location for a year-round homeless shelter on Saviers Road along with the Residential Rehabilitation Loan Repair Program and homeless services for women and children through Gabriel’s House.
“We report to HCD that we are complying with the housing element programs,” she said.
The sixth RHNA cycle has been interesting and complex, Mallory said, and the city started giving data to SCAG (Southern California Associated Governments) 2018,
“We gave input on factors that are unique to Ventura County that constrains land development,” she said. “Surprisingly, water is not considered by HCD or SCAG as a limitation. We put that in, along with many other factors, but they did not factor that in when they allocated housing units to us.”
In August, SCAG adjusted local input numbers based on the feedback the city gave them in 2018-2019 and adjusted them with factors for vacancy units they counted for the community.
The sixth RHNA Cycle included three methods to distribute regional housing allocation numbers, Mallory said, she and took into consideration existing or current housing and current needs for high-quality housing transit accessibility and social equity.
A current or exiting need is a target number that HCD and the California Department of Housing and Community Development identified as the number of housing units needed to address the current housing deficiency.
“In other words, it’s the lack of housing units constructed over the past eight-year planning cycle to meet existing housing needs,” she said. “That could be because of the cost burden or the number of homeless that can’t get housing units or over-crowding. They allocated a specific housing number for the existing and current needs. Without our existing need allocation number, the total sixth cycle county RHNA would have been lower than the fifth cycle allocation and would have been lower than Oxnard’s fifth cycle allocation.”
With the proposed sixth cycle and the methodology, including the cost burden and future need, Mallory said the city received a large existing need allocation of 5,266 units, which represents 34 percent of the county’s total current need.
“Existing need also allocates shared household growth between 2030 and 2045,” she said. “You’re making up for the past housing need that wasn’t constructed. Then, they project it forward to 2045, which seems hard to achieve. We’ve had numerous conversations with SCAG over that, and 250 other jurisdictions sent comment letters complaining about that distribution and trying to get to the methodology.”
Future or projected need is the housing allocation considered for growth considering future vacancy, she said, and replacement need is no longer recognized.
The three methodologies going into the current housing cycle are existing, and future housing needs, and proximity to high-quality transit areas. That is based on whether or not you have a Metrolink Station in the city.
“There are headway provisions, as well,” Mallory said. “As Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez knows, we’ve had many conversations with SCAG about that. We now understand that we do have a high-quality transit district because we have a Metrolink, but not because we have those required headways. The idea is that housing should be located near transit areas, such as Metrolink Stations. It encourages the use of alternative transportation modes, which is consistent with the SCAG sustainable community strategies and the governor’s approach of reducing emissions by locating housing near transit corridors, and the governor’s climate goals.”
If an agency is not constructing affordable housing, there are disincentives, which means a lower social equity percentage and a more significant number of extremely low and very low housing units in a city’s sixth RHNA cycle.
“In Oxnard, we’ve done a great job of constructing affordable housing,” she said. “Our social equity adjustment is 170 percent.”
Social equity adjustments go from 150-180 percent.
“We believed that we were eligible for a 180 percent adjustment, but the data and the metrics have been approved, and we’re at 170 percent,” Mallory said.
In September 2019, the allocation came from HCD that 1,344,740 housing units had to be accommodated in the SCAG Region, made up of 191 cities and six counties over the eight-year planning cycle.
As a result, SCAG rolled out those numbers to all the jurisdictions that sent out an objection letter to HCD. Each city responded, and they pulled back the projection for the SCAG RHNA to 1,341,827 units.
“That’s s staggering number,” she said. “Existing need is a huge number of the overall number. The current need is 59 percent of that number. That makes up for past housing the HCD says should have been constructed and a projection up through 2045.”
Mallory also has future needs to meet and growth based upon jurisdictional input.
Currently, downtown Oxnard envisions approximately 1,800 housing units constructed, and the numbers reflect that projection.
Councilman Bert Perello asked how the state audits the numbers and makes sure they are correct.
“They look back at building permit records, and they look at it through the regional transportation plan data we provided in 2018,” Mallory said. “I feel comfortable with their data. There are some concerns.”
This story will conclude in the Nov. 8 edition.