New ‘Affordable’ Housing?

Short answer: No. Long answer: Noooooo. 

Why?  Because Mendo has a track record of doing nothing and now they’re turning over the important subject of housing to yet another overpaid, out-of-county consultant. And when staffers say there will be “challenges,” that means: “never happen.” 

Not in Mendo anyway.

Mendo’s “Inclusionary Housing/Housing Element” (of the General Plan) is supposed to identify “impediments to affordable housing,” because, according to the County’s new (and very expensive) Planning Director, Brent Schultz, the existing one “has resulted in no new housing in our county.”

Which directly contradicts a statement Mr. Schultz made later, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

But Schultz’s blunt statement didn’t stop Mendo’s crack planning staff and commissioners from pretending Mendo's housing for people of ordinary means is somehow better than average at Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting.

Acker

Julia Acker, Mendocino County Chief Planner, a true daughter of Elk, and therefore a true believer: “The timeframe we are embarking on right now [for the revised Housing Element] is for 2019 to 2024. We have an RFP prepared and that will be going out very early next week to seek an outside consultant to prepare our housing element for us and looking at the barriers for entry for affordable housing projects coming into the County as well.”

Fifth District Planning Commissioner (architect) Diane Weideman (replacing Hamburg’s appointment Steve Hall who has apparently retired): “I'm not really sure, but I got the impression it was going to come to us — or when it's going to be addressed or when it needs to be completed…?”

Acker: "We will be bringing that forward as soon as the housing element is complete. We are thinking that we would be coming in front of you [the Planning Commission] the end of this year or very early next year. The hope [sic] would be that we would come in at the end of this year. [Laughs.] But just time permitting, so —”

Silly us for thinking there was an actual deadline. 

Weideman: “Will we get preliminary drafts, interim drafts, before your final presentation draft?”

Acker: “You would not.”

Of course not, we can’t have people who live in the County pestering the out-of-county consultant about what they’re doing for Mendo! God forbid!

Acker: “We typically bring it to you after we have conducted our staff review of the consultant’s document that they prepared; we would bring forward a draft to you, it's still a draft until it's formally adopted, we would bring forward what's been reviewed administratively and what we feel is a complete product for your consideration.”

So the consultant will prepare something that complies with legal requirements but has no meaning to the general population of Mendocino County.

Commission Chair Marilyn Ogle: “I remember when we went through this inclusionary housing program before. Do you know at this point if it will be similar? If I'm not mistaken this is — there are existing areas where we want to infill with additional housing. Will it be similar to what we had before? Or do we know yet?”

Acker: “We will be determining that as we move forward. Our numbers, our regional housing needs assessment numbers, it's a very high number this year. So there is going to be some challenges [sic] for us to be able to find areas that meet these requirements. But really right now we are putting a little bit the cart before the horse because our consultant will be looking at this fully and seeing where we have those opportunities and whether or not we have any challenges and whether will be able to meet those needs.”

Ogle: “Do you feel like the numbers are high because of the fires and how much housing was lost, or do you think it's just because we didn't manage to do it?”

Acker: “The state sets those numbers. We went back to them and asked them to reconsider those numbers and they did not. So there was also a discussion with the County and the various incorporated cities in the County to discuss how those needs will be allocated across the various jurisdictions and again we did try to get some reductions on that acknowledging that we are down a lot by the fires but there was no shift. I'm not 100% certain on how they came up with that allocation number. I wouldn't want to speak out of turn.”

Schultz

Planning and Building Director Brent Schultz: “All I can tell you is that these housing elements— I did them many years ago and this is a document the state is going to be watching. You've already heard your governor say that they want — they are looking at taking away transportation funding if we don't try to produce housing. I'm really pleased coming here new and seeing all these housings that the county has been doing, you have been producing affordable housing…”

“All these housings”? Not much has been done to produce new housing in Mendocino County, much less “affordable” housing. (Ukiah just got a $5 mil-plus grant to build forty or so units of housing for seniors, "our most vulnerable citizens." And Fort Bragg got $3 mil for a couple dozen units. But these will barely scratch the surface and whatever credit is due goes to the cities, not Official Mendocino County.) The only housing project that’s in the works is the now seemingly stalled Lovers Lane project and it’s far — very far — from affordable. It’s a collection of single-family homes averaging $400k or so.

Try getting a mortgage if you make less than $60k a year, and it isn't easy even with a bigger income and perfect credit.

Schultz: “Some areas of the state are doing nothing. And the state is using these housing elements to make you identify where you are going to build it. It has to be zoned and the general plan has to be in place. You can't — we used to be able to identify a site and the zoning and general plan didn't even allow it. Now you have to rezone it and update the general plan. We will do a good job with that document [the housing element of the General Plan] and there will be a lot of good information in it and we will submit it for review.”

Ogle: “I did notice that the Sacramento Bee had a recent article on this. And actually Mendocino County was not one of the counties that was targeted for not meeting goals as of now. I was pleased to see that because I know we've been through this.”

Yes, “we’ve been through this” before. And got exactly nowhere. Ms. Ogle is probably referring to when the local legal aid attorney Lisa Hillegas sued the County for a non-compliant Housing Element that was just as Mr. Schultz described: sites listed for the sake of the paperwork that were not zoned for housing nor in the General Plan for housing, and which had no water and sewer capacity and for which there were no plans for water and sewer. Official Mendo has never taken housing seriously. And this latest consultant exercise will benefit one person and one person only: the consultant.

Housing, much less “affordable housing” (which typically just means apartment complexes, not single family homes) is so far off, if ever, that Mendo might actually get one of those letters from Governor Newsom’s staff saying that transportation money is jeopardized. (Not that anybody in Mendo would notice much if it was cut…)

If Mendo was serious about "affordable" housing, they'd designate former Supervisor John Pinches as their "consultant" and ask him to develop plans for trailer parks. The rest of this purely academic exercise is a waste of time and money.

3 Responses to "New ‘Affordable’ Housing?"

  1. Betsy Cawn   February 28, 2019 at 6:13 am

    Lake County’s Housing Element “update” was almost two years overdue in 2016 when the State demanded the completion of the delayed document, and the County planning department conducted the requisite “advisory committee” process to allow citizen input prior to Planning Commission approval.

    Unfortunately, the significant loss of “housing stock” in 2015, resulting from the federally-declared “Valley” fire (about 1,300 homes, almost half of which were rental units), was not recognized in the hasty “update.” Real numbers of displaced low-income renters (believed to be high in the category of older adults with low fixed incomes and limited resources for recovering their formerly adequate but currently irreplaceable dwelling arrangements) are not available — FEMA data is not accessible, and County “long-term recovery” efforts did not include specification of newly “unhoused” residents to accelerate the “encouragement” of “affordable” housing through prioritized efforts that the Housing Element is theoretically designed to produce.

    The County of Lake was once again nagged by the state, and is in the process of producing a niggardly General Plan Amendment to “fix” minor problems identified by some sleepy bureaucrat in Sacramento, but with still no “new” community investment (and legally required advisory body) to replace lost affordable residential units.

    A 60-unit apartment complex that was destroyed in Middletown, safe/affordable compartments serving a combination of laborers and elderly/disabled retirees, will be rebuilt by the Middletown Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, who are long-time investors in the relatively successful community with strong business advocates and socially active proponents of “resiliency” and economic “recovery.”

    Regular surveys of all “subsidized” apartment complexes — especially for older adults and disabled adults of all ages — reveal a 2-3 year waiting list for occupancy. Rural Community Housing Development Corporation in Mendocino County is the most active agency providing management of construction and ongoing operation of established “senior housing” complexes, and new influxes of “Mental Health Services Act” funding to support subsidized apartments and “cottages” on property long-designated for that purpose will produce new available units in 2-3 years.

    Meanwhile, conditions for low-fixed-income disabled and/or older adults have been worsened by subsequent wildfire disasters (2016, “Clayton” in Lower Lake; 2017, “Sulphur” in Clearlake/Clearlake Oaks; 2018, “Pawnee,” “River,” and “Ranch” fires in Spring Valley, Upper Lake, and Scotts Valley).

    So infinite fiddling with the meaningless “Housing Element” — which does NOTHING to actually construct and operate the needed residential units both our counties desperately need — is the bastion of cosseted consultants and junior planners in need of harnessing to the County “planning” machine.

    The General Plan itself is a concoction of “policies” and “programs” fulfilling some kind of wishful imagery of government “oversight” of “community development.” The private housing industry is not encouraged to think small, and as the venerable Mr. Pinches would attest, the model for effective low-cost housing is “mobile home parks.”

    The unrelentless pogrom expunging weak, vulnerable, non-“productive” people from the population is the invisible monster nibbling at the margins of health and safety for about one-fourth of Lake County’s population, and costly “compliance consultants” will not make a whit of difference in creating solutions because there is NO PLAN to create living quarters that are not fiscally rewarding for all the agencies, companies, and financial institutions depending on ever-increasing “returns on investment” that cannot be sucked from the blood of a turnip.

    The Governor’s Office of “Planning & Research” itself is complicit in perpetuating this bureaucratic myth of prognostication to improve the “wellness” of municipal systems. Following the passage of the California Environmental Quality Act, the Permit Streamlining Act ensured that municipal staffs are tasked with inevitable “piece-mealing” of projects heralded by Chambers of Commerce, financiers, and the construction industry, with no apparent reference to prioritized “housing” needs.

    Not to mention “recovery” of life-time, multi-generational investors in economically sustainable communities in rural enclaves requiring no “city services.”

    Mr. Scaramella, thanks for keeping this issue in the spotlight, especially the failure of elected officials to recognize the disservice created by “administration” drones with no evident accountability for actual outcomes. Jesus wept.

    Reply
  2. izzy   February 28, 2019 at 8:52 am

    Ach! Another round of substance-less happy talk, couched in the usual dense thicket of circular Beaurocratese.
    I’m reminded of an old Rodney Dangerfield joke – “They told me to cheer up, things could be worse. And they were right. I cheered up, and things got worse.”

    Reply
  3. enough   March 6, 2019 at 10:37 pm

    The noses of the state elected officials are growing longer and longer. If a county is on the special HCD list, little low income housing is required. On the HCD “bad” list – cites are told to up-zone more and more land in the city. HCD, doesn’t see a housing crisis and didn’t see a housing crisis when they divided up the number of housing units (mostly apartments for low income) among the counties or COGs for the 5th cycle housing element (2013-2021). All this news about affordable housing without notice of how many cities are removed from building the low income housing.

    Los Angeles County received a housing quota that was 100,000 housing units less than the previous 8 year 4th cycle. Orange County also had a lower housing quota. The residents of California have been manipulated by the politicians and the building industry that donate money to the political campaigns.

    Check out the RHNA numbers for the regional SCAG agency. Cities such as Malibu, Newport Beach, Beverly Hills, Laguna Beach, Costa Mesa, Hermosa Beach, and Compton are only required to up-zone for 2 low income restricted houses. Huntington Beach was told they had to up-zone for 533 low income houses. The “law” according to HCD is that cities must re-zone property to higher density, that is 30 housing units per acre. The theory is that the increased density would mean apartments buildings and a few apartments in the building could be low income while the rest would be market rate. There’s no consideration of gridlock, overcrowding of schools, etc. in the thinking of the legislature that passes these bills.

    Reply

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