City Council Tackles Need for Affordable Housing

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(Jeff Heyman, Photographer)
With its striking architecture and commanding view of Orinda Village, Monteverde Senior Apartments exemplifies a development project that includes affordable housing.

    On Sept. 28, Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 787 into law. The bill aims to increase moderate-income housing for California’s “workforce” population – nurses, teachers, firefighters, grocery store employees – and will provide an incentive of credit towards local jurisdictions’ annual Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) goals.
    The bill, authored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), takes effect amid a recognized shortage of affordable housing for California’s residents. Jurisdictions that convert existing market-rate housing units and preserve them as deed-restricted, moderate-income units will receive credit towards their annual RHNA goals.
    The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) approved the assignment of 1,359 units in Orinda under RHNA – new homes Orinda must plan for in their Housing Element.
    “Assembly Bill 787, however, will not have an impact in Orinda,” according to Orinda Mayor Amy Worth. “We have rental apartments, but they are all deed-restricted … low-income apartments, in our two senior affordable apartment projects.”
    According to the City of Orinda’s Planning Department, the upcoming 6th Cycle Housing Element (found at www.planorinda.com) – which is one of the required elements of their General Plan – must be certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development by Jan. 2023.
    As shown on the City’s website, of these approved RHNA units, 215 are moderate-income level, another 215 are low-income level and 372 are very low-income level. The ABAG Board is expected to approve final RHNA allocations sometime in late 2021.
    Planning Director, Drummond Buckley, spoke of a convergence between the city’s downtown revitalization and Housing Element plans at a Sept. 27 special city council subcommittee meeting held via Zoom.
    The revitalization, referred to by the City as the Downtown Precise Plan (DPP), is focused on the development regulations for private property and would stimulate housing production by increasing allowable residential densities in the downtown commercial zoning district.
    It allows multi-family residential developments within the downtown commercial zoning district.
    DPP would also update Orinda’s downtown development standards, according to the City’s website (www.cityoforinda.org) and create objective design standards for multi-family residential and mixed-use projects.
    “The goal is to do the environmental review of both the Housing Element and the Precise Plan concurrently and adopt [both] at the same time,” Planning Director Buckley said during the Sept. 27 meeting.
    Buckley also spoke of the “interior objective standards” of the downtown plan, including a potential requirement of affordable housing units in the DPP area to be the same size as market-rate units, and possibly requiring a certain percentage of all units be two bedrooms.
    “These kinds of standards would potentially also apply outside of the Downtown Precise Plan area,” Buckley said. “That dovetails into [which] sites the City Council ultimately chooses to include for its Regional Housing Needs Allocation sites. That’s one of the reasons why I think it makes sense to look at that issue separately from the objective design standards, which would apply within… our core downtown areas.”
    City of Orinda Council Member Nick Kosla spoke of the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) possibilities within townhomes at the special meeting. ADUs, described by the California Department of Housing and Community Development as “an innovative, affordable, effective option for adding much-needed housing in California,” are secondary dwellings that share the building lot of a larger, primary home.
    “You can make that bottom floor an ADU,” Kosla said of three-story attached townhouses. If a townhouse is $1 million, and the bottom floor is available to rent for $1,500 a month, “you can do it at about 320 square feet,” Kosla noted.
    Then, “[you] really only need to be paying the equivalent of a $700,000 mortgage, because [you] can rent that [bottom unit] out for the equivalent of a $300,000 mortgage,” Kosla added. He emphasized the resulting creation of two units in one spot and, concurrently, the creation of market rate, more affordable housing.
    Thinking of opportunities to have ADUs within multi-family buildings, specifically townhomes, is another way to address housing needs within Orinda, Kosla said.
    Orinda’s upcoming 6th Cycle Housing Element will plan for the period of 2023 to 2031.
    Buckley voiced his confidence in the City’s ability to accomplish its housing goals, stating “We’ll meet all our deadlines for RHNA and the Housing Element.”

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