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City Looking Over Inclusionary Housing Ordinance

Committee Votes to Recommend Regulation Changes

A possible change to Santa Barbara’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance would apply the ordinance to projects with as little as five units – down from where the threshold currently stands at ten. The ordinance, voted into being in 2004, comes into play when developers are building new ownership units or converting old apartments to condominiums. The ordinance currently requires at least 15 percent of these units be middle-income or affordable housing. A Housing Policy Steering Committee met on May 24 and voted to recommend to the city council to change that percentage in certain instances as well.

In residential-only zones and commercial zones outside the central business district – upper State Street for example – the inclusionary percentage for developments below ten units would be 10 percent. The percentage from 10 to 24 unit buildings would be 15 percent. And any development with 25 or more units would have a 20 percent inclusionary ratio. In most of those instances, the percentages would be an increase. In commercial zones within the central business district, the committee – made up of three councilmembers and three planning commission members – voted to increase the inclusionary percentage in developments of below ten units to 15 percent, between ten and 24 to 20 percent, and any development with 25 or more units to 20 percent. The Home Builder’s Association of the Central Coast, represented by Jerry Bunin, was okay with lowering the threshold.

The ordinance will be looked at again in the not-too-distant future when the city heads to its General Plan update – titled “Plan Santa Barbara” – where city officials will be discussing Santa Barbara’s future. Immediate, simple, and possibly temporary changes were being sought for the ordinance. The decisions needed to be made quickly because if nothing was done until the General Plan update, projects under ten units wouldn’t contain any affordable housing, Councilmember Helene Schneider said.

Developers have the option of paying an in-lieu fee – currently set at $475,000 – which can be paid in place of building affordable units. A high in-lieu fee means there are usually more units built right away, which the city staff and committee preferred. But the fee might be a little too high. It was suggested that a price somewhere between what it is now and what it was in 2004 – $310,000 – be sought. The money made from the fees goes toward building other affordable housing units, often times in association with the Housing Authority. The committee also made the recommendation to drop the fee to affect projects with only two units. Developers of two to four unit projects would have to pay a pro-rated in-lieu fee, rather than the full amount.

Though the committee did discuss possible changes to the bonus density regulations, they held off on voting until the General Plan update. In some circumstances, the city will allow bonus density – the opportunity to build more units than allowed under the zoning of the property – to developers. But some or all of the units would be subject to rent restrictions or resale controls, which will keep those particular units affordable for a longer time. The city is also looking at possible changes which would make it discretionary, rather than mandatory, to prevent too much size and bulk in the areas of bonus density housing. Many planners have said bonus density is absolutely necessary for them to go along with the changes. The matter will hit the Planning Commission in the coming weeks, before heading to the city’s ordinance committee.

The reach out process has begun for Plan Santa Barbara. Residents should begin receiving mailers from the city announcing community workshops on the General Plan. There will be three meetings in June, beginning with a June 13 meeting at the Faulkner Gallery, located at 40 E. Anapamu St., from 6-9 p.m. The second meeting will run from 9 a.m. to noon at La Casa de la Raza, at 601 E. Montecito St., and from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Westside Community Center, located at 423 W. Victoria St. In the meantime, the city is asking residents to visit youplansb.org to stay updated on the General Plan process. Visitors can also fill out a comment form online, where they can express their praise, problems, hopes, and concerns.

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