Council tackles affordable housing

The City Council is now more than one hour into the most mind-numbingly technical debate in my three years on the beat. I haven’t consumed enough calories today to digest all of what they’re talking about.

The TCV’s Bill Marshak is next to me reading the nutritional facts on the back of his peanut butter M&M’s.  I had the salt-free trail mix, but I’m still hungry. The chamber’s Nina Moore and local homebuilder Mark Robson have taken over the press table and are sitting to my right.

The reason they’re here is that the council is considering changes for how it gets for-profit developers  to produce more affordable housing.

Currently, when a developer like Robson develops a new subdivision, he has to provide that 15 percent of those units are affordable. That has helped Fremont produce a fair number of so called “moderately” income homes, but not enough “low” and “very low” income houses.

So the city is proposing that developers, instead of building a few moderately priced single-family homes in new subdivisions,  can pay an in lieu fee, which would go toward providing more units, most likely in an apartment complex.

For-profit developers generally like this because it gives them more flexibility.

Non-profit developers also like this because they can benefit from the fees to build apartment complexes to house more people making far less than the local median income.

The one caveat is that while this will probably help the city produce more affordable housing, it could result in that affordable housing being concentrated in only a few parts of town — Most likely in Centerville and Irvington.

Follow the steps:

1) Fremont passed a plan to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for new affordable housing projects
2) Fremont is proposing to zoning changes to allow for bigger buildings with less parking along the main thoroughfares in Centerville and Irvington.
3) Fremont is looking to pass these in lieu fees, which will allow affordable units to be built in a different location from the new for-profit developments.

Where do you think they’ll go?

City folks will argue that Centerville and Irvington will be better locations for low-income folks because they have, or in Irvington’s case, will have better access to public transit.

The big question isn’t so much the in lieu fees, it’s whether the city should require developers provide more affordable housing when the build new projects. Right now the requirement is that the new projects include 15 percent affordable homes.  But affordable housing advocates want it to be 20 percent. It was supposed to be 20 percent, but the city is a little hesitant because of the economy and some recent court decisions.

10:10 Council compromises. The 20 percent affordability requirement won’t start until 2015 and won’t go into effect until the city performs another study to make sure it’s warranted. The council also agreed to start with lower in lieu fees.

Matt Artz