Too much affordable housing? Concord rejects low-income project downtown, draws state scrutiny

At a public hearing last month, a real estate developer approached the Concord City Council with a proposal that, to many, might have seemed too good to turn down: 183 new downtown apartments, nearly all affordable, at no cost to the city.

All the developer asked of the council? Permission to accept up to $90 million in state financing to cover construction costs.

But a 4-1 majority of councilmembers rejected the request, reasoning the project would concentrate too much affordable housing in the suburban East Bay city’s central business district. Instead, they encouraged Idaho-based Pacific West Communities to build the complex as mostly market-rate apartments, which wouldn’t receive subsidies.

“I’m not helping my community by shoving all affordable housing in one single location,” Councilman Dominic Aliano said before voting down the financing request.

In explaining their decision, which could effectively kill the project, councilmembers pointed to at least three large housing projects the city has approved in recent years to add more than 300 affordable units downtown. They argued that allowing more low-income housing in the area would risk depriving the neighborhood of a healthy mix of residents from all backgrounds. At the same time, some members said, other parts of the city aren’t receiving their fair share of affordable homes.

“To me, that’s not equality in housing,” said Aliano, whose district includes the proposed project at 1650 Ashbury Dr. near the Concord BART station.

State regulators, however, disagreed with that assessment.

In a June 10 letter to the City Council, the state housing department wrote that by denying the financing, the city may have violated fair housing regulations and its state-mandated commitment to approve affordable housing. The agency reminded local officials it has the power to enforce state housing laws, evidenced by a string of recent lawsuits it filed against Southern California cities, including Huntington Beach, Anaheim and Fullerton.

State regulators have sent similar warning letters to other Bay Area cities, notably Woodside, which tried to skirt a recent state housing law by declaring the uber-wealthy Silicon Valley suburb a mountain lion sanctuary.

The council’s decision on the Ashbury project comes as the state is pushing cities to plan for more affordable housing in wealthier neighborhoods that have long locked out low-income residents and households of color — an effort councilmembers cited as a rationale for denying the financing.

In a letter to the developer’s attorney, Concord City Attorney Susanne Meyer Brown reiterated that the council believed it was following the state’s direction to avoid a “concentration of affordable housing units in a lower resource area.” Officials and experts agree that past housing segregation — even when not established by law — has fueled cycles of poverty and inequality nationwide.

City officials said they are reviewing the state’s letter.

Plans for the Ashbury project call for units to be affordable for households earning between 30% and 70% of the East Bay’s typical annual income, between $46,700 and $108,990 for a family of four. Those households would typically pay around 30% of their income on rent.

Housing advocates, meanwhile, described the council’s …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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