Special to the Vanguard
Sacramento, CA – The State of California on Monday filed a lawsuit against the City of Elk Grove, challenging the city’s denial of a proposed supportive housing project in the city’s Old Town Special Planning Area (OTSPA).
The lawsuit alleges the city’s denial of the project violates state laws including SB 35, the Housing Accountability Act (HAA), and fair housing laws intended to prohibit discriminatory land use practices, including the Nondiscrimination in Land Use Law and the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing statute (AFFH).
The proposed project, known as the Oak Rose Apartments, would add 66 units of supportive housing for lower-income households at risk of homelessness, in a jurisdiction in dire need of low-income housing opportunities.
“Our state is in a housing crisis and local governments must do their part to allow for affordable housing options for all members of our communities, regardless of their income level,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Bonta added, “Everyone deserves to have a place to call home. California has critically important laws designed to combat housing discrimination and increase affordable housing opportunities. Today’s lawsuit against Elk Grove sends a strong message to local governments: if you violate fair housing laws, we will hold you to account.”
“Communities that fail to build their fair share of housing, including those refusing to develop desperately needed affordable housing, will be held to account,” said Governor Gavin Newsom.
The Governor added, “Under my Administration, the state has provided unprecedented support, including billions in funding and resources to help guide communities as they work to meet their housing needs. However, when local governments repeatedly fail to uphold their obligations and blatantly look for ways to skirt state law, we will use every tool available, including legal actions to ensure that Californians have access to needed housing.”
“Building more affordable housing is the most effective tool to reduce and prevent homelessness – but the City of Elk Grove is blatantly evading fair housing laws and working against solving our housing and homelessness crisis,” said HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez. “HCD is laser focused on helping all jurisdictions meet their housing goals, but when cities like Elk Grove refuse to do so, we will hold them accountable.”
As a supportive housing project, the Oak Rose Apartments would provide permanent housing for individuals and families who previously experienced homelessness, or are at risk of homelessness, as well as off- or on-site services to assist the residents in maintaining housing, improving their health status, and maximizing their ability to live and work in the community.
The state alleges that Elk Grove City Council improperly denied the project, claiming that it did not meet the city’s zoning standards and was therefore ineligible for SB 35 ministerial review.
In the lawsuit, the state seeks injunctive relief to require Elk Grove to approve the project and realign with state law.
The state argues that the city’s denial of the project was based on discretionary exercise and not an “objective standard,” in violation of HAA and SB 35.
The lawsuit also alleges that Elk Grove’s unequal application of the cited land use restrictions, and subsequent denial of the Oak Rose Apartments constituted a discriminatory land use practice in violation of the Nondiscrimination in Land Use Law and AFFH.
These fair housing laws prohibit local governments from making land use decisions that are based on discriminatory intent or that have a discriminatory effect.
The lawsuit contends that there is evidence of both in Elk Grove’s decision to deny the Oak Rose Apartments.
First, the state claims, “the city allowed a market-rate housing development located within the OTSPA, the Elk Grove Railroad Courtyards Project, to move forward despite the presence of ground floor residential units.”
The city found that Railroad Courtyards was consistent with planning standards, and “completely avoided any discussion of the same use restrictions that it cited in its denial of the Oak Rose Apartments, evidencing discriminatory intent.”
Second, the state argued, “with the Oak Rose Apartments, the city adopted a strict interpretation of the use restriction, claiming it is an outright prohibition of ground floor residential units, which disproportionately affects the low-income persons who are deprived of that housing. “
The city thus in the state’s view, “adopted two conflicting interpretations of the OTSPA use restriction for two similarly situated projects serving different populations.”
It applied “a more permissive interpretation to approve a lower density market-rate project, and it applied a stricter interpretation to disapprove the Oak Rose Apartments, a higher density lower-income supportive housing project.”
In fact, the state continued, “city staff had found that the Oak Rose Apartment project was consistent with the city’s land use policies, and therefore, there was no compelling purpose to override the discriminatory effect of the city’s denial. The residents who would benefit from the housing would be needlessly forced to look elsewhere for similar housing opportunities.”
The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to require the city to approve the project in accordance with state law.
A copy of the lawsuit is available here.