A week ago, former Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo published an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee that laid out some ideas of “some realistic options for affordable housing today.” She suggested “borrowing from our past.”
She argued, “Some of them seem obvious, but they don’t seem to be part of the current discussions.”
Some have reached out to the Vanguard, arguing that these suggestions seem right on point for Davis as well.
First, she suggested, “Recruit homebuilders to construct smaller homes.” She writes: “Starter homes were modest houses that might be called entry level or workforce housing now. Built after World War II and again in the 1970s and ‘80s, they came with Formica countertops, vinyl floors, small bedrooms, carports or one-car garages and no fences or landscaping.”
Second, she suggested, “Require half-plexes and duplexes again on corners in new developments. She writes: “These smaller homes greatly expanded and integrated more affordable units into Land Park, East Sacramento, South Natomas and Pocket Greenhaven, and do not depress property values.”
Third, she suggested, “Build more senior housing to free up existing homes for younger families.” She writes, “With few options in the city, many older homeowners decide to stay in place, which reduces the inventory, depresses city property tax revenue and means fewer children for city school districts.”
Finally, she suggested: “Require construction or adaptation for disabled persons.” She writes, “They are the most impacted by fast-rising housing costs due to the limited number of accessible
housing units. Universal design would be helpful for young families with strollers, bikes and visiting grandparents.”
Part of her suggestion was to establish “tiny homes villages.” She writes that “manufactured or prefab homes, mobile homes or tiny houses, these affordable homes are very livable when the complex is well designed and managed. Let’s figure out how we can build more soon, possibly on surplus city or county property.”
I will briefly address these suggestions. I think she is right on point with the suggestion of smaller homes. A smaller home in Davis is probably going to run in the $300,000 to $400,000, but that is at least a plausible home for a first-time home buyer and family. The problem that we see with the Cannery is that the homes are too large for entry level families to afford.
As we have pointed out, market rate rentals are prohibitive in cost for a lot of families. We are seeing in both the Chiles Road proposed development as well as Plaza 2555 the inclusion of small units that might be affordable by design.
Part of the problem with trying to build in housing cost reduction through supply of additional single family homes is that the housing crisis is regional and, therefore, local supply is not going to dent demand. Therefore, the answer for affordability is either big “A” affordable housing with income controls or affordability by size.
The idea there is to get new home buyers into the housing market, allow them to build equity, and then upscale.
The requirement for half-plexes and duplexes would create a similar impact as the smaller houses.
She also suggests senior housing which could free up existing homes for younger families. This is one of the theories that the developers at West Davis Active Adult Center are trumpeting. Of course they also attempting to restrict new residents at the senior housing to current residents in Davis. While an interesting idea, the proposal has drawn criticism from some worried about the impact of housing that is exclusive.
Finally, she notes that we should require construction for disabled persons, which includes accessible units and exclusive design. That is something that Davis has been pushing in recent development, including the defeated Wild Horse Ranch project as well as in portions at least of the Cannery.
One problem that I think you are going to have in Davis is that, while we might have an occasional project that gets approved on the periphery, at this point we are largely looking at infill. It is certainly a good idea to look toward smaller, more dense townhouses in these infill projects – things that we are seeing with Plaza 2555 and the proposed project on Chiles.
However, the one idea that she does not espouse is looking to expand big “A” affordable housing. While the city has been pondering a social services tax and is looking to refine affordable housing requirements, it seems that what we need here is a return to the tax increment that provided a revenue stream under RDA (Redevelopment Agency).
Ms. Fargo concludes: “The city needs to grasp every opportunity to provide housing for low- and middle-income people throughout Sacramento. If it’s really a crisis, then require every new project to include some smaller or less expensive units. City staff should be asked to present realistic options to the Planning Commission and City Council to keep housing affordable.”
She adds, “We need to question our definitions of ‘market-rate’ housing, which is now housing for the wealthy, and ‘affordable,’ which is housing for the rest of us. Housing that the average employed person in Sacramento can afford should be the norm.”
From my perspective, Davis is not likely to build its way into affordability especially outside the student rental market, and so it should look at ways to create affordability both in terms of subsidized housing and by design. These seem like good suggestions going forward.
—David M. Greenwald reporting