Affordable Housing Policies that Address Our City’s Housing Crisis

4 Mar

Making Housing and Community has partnered with the Pasadena Affordable Housing Coalition, which now consists of 15 organizations committed to passing housing policies that would meet our city’s need for nearly 6,000 units of affordable housing in the next 8 years (according to the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment). Here are some of the policy solutions we have recommended that the city adopt. You can read the Coalition’s critique of the current draft of the Housing Element in this op ed Pasadena Now. 

 Tenant Protection Solutions 

  1. Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance: This ordinance defines and codifies illegal harassment activities and toughens civil and criminal penalties for landlords who are abusing their tenants. See example from the City of Los Angeles Source 1 from Abundant Housing LA, Source 2 from City of Los Angeles CityClerk Connect.
  2. Just Cause Eviction Ordinance: “Just cause eviction policies promote residential stability by limiting the grounds upon which a landlord may evict a tenant. Allowable grounds for eviction include nonpayment of rent, intentional damage to the unit, and other material noncompliance with the terms of the lease before they may evict tenants.” Source 1 from Local Housing Solutions, Source 2 from Princeton University evaluated the effect of just cause eviction ordinances across the United States .
  3. A Rental Registry: A rental registry allows a city to require landlords to report to the city about rental units and rent amounts. Many cities have versions of rental registries, however, most of them only apply to rent-stabilized apartments not market rate apartments. One example is the City of San Jose. The City of El Cerrito has a rent registry that applies to all owners of residential rental property .
  4. Fund a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Program. These programs enable tenants to purchase a property before it’s put on the market. ShelterForce Report on Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Acts.
  5. Tenant’s Right to Counsel Funding: Cities provide funding to implement a right to counsel for tenants in eviction proceedings, as well as to implement a fully effective moratorium on evictions and additional rental assistance for tenants. ACLU article on tenant’s right to council.
  6. Rent Control: The City of Santa Monica adopted rent control in 1979. The law was intended to alleviate the hardships of the housing shortage and ensure that landowners make a fair return on their investment. When adopting a rent Santa Monica Rent Control Info. (City, not state rent control)

Zoning Solutions 

  1. Congregational Land Overlay Zone: A congregational land overlay zone is a zoning tool which allows religious congregations to build affordable housing at sufficient densities on their land. An overlay zone is crafted to be unique to each jurisdiction and sensitive to site/neighborhood context. See this factsheet for more information on the congregational land overlay zone as it relates in a neighboring SGV city, Pasadena.
  2. Incentivize affordable ADUs and JADUs. Allow more flexibility on ADU size (build a second story above parking on 1st floor): Make it less costly and less time intensive to develop ADUs. City of Los Angeles ADU Accelerator Program.
  3. Remove Parking Minimums Citywide: Parking minimums hurt housing affordability, take up space that could be used for more housing units, encourage driving, and disincentivize the use of transit. Report on effect of the City of Buffalo’s cutting of parking minimums. Other cities that have removed parking minimums are San Francisco, Berkeley, and more.
  4. Encourage “Missing Middle” housing types: (row houses/brownstones, stacked triplexes, etc). Allow by-right in areas currently zoned for SFH that are within ¼ or ½ mile of commercial districts/Special Plan Areas. Hold a design competition to solicit architectural templates that are beautiful and can win public approval, and allow small developers to use those templates to build projects with minimal review by the planning department. Missing Middle Housing Source. Congress for New Urbanism Source.
  5. Housing Overlay Zone, such as an Affordable Housing Overlay Zone: A housing overlay zone provides a package of incentives to developers who include in their projects homes that people can afford. They are called “overlay” zones because they layer on top of established base zoning regulations, leaving in place opportunities for property owners to develop within these existing rules. Factsheet on Housing Overlay Zones. Berkeley Affordable Housing Overlay Zone.
  6. Introduce local density bonus program near transit: City of Los Angeles TOC program encourages developers to build more housing units – including affordable units – near major public transportation stops. Additional incentives include the reduction of parking requirements. City of Los Angeles TOC Program.
  7. Allow housing in commercially zoned areas: Vacant or underutilized commercially zoned areas are opportunities to build housing in Southern California where vacant land is hard to come across. Berkeley Terner Center Report on Residential Redevelopment of Commercially Zoned Land in California.
  8. Streamline the approval of deed-restricted, affordable housing, and permanent supportive housing within 30 days of application. Habitat of Humanity Report on Streamlining Approvals for Affordable Housing in California.
  9. Form-Based Code: Pursue form-based code which effectively regulates missing middle housing. Form-Based Codes (FBCs) remove barriers and incentivize Missing Middle Housing in appropriate locations in a community. FBCs represent a paradigm shift in the way that we regulate the built environment, using physical form rather than a separation of uses as the organizing principal, to create predictable, built results and a high-quality public realm. Missing Middle Housing on Form-Based Code.

Funding Solutions 

  1. Vacancy Tax: A vacancy tax called the Oakland Vacant Property Tax (VPT) was passed by the City of Oakland in 2t018. The VPT Act establishes an annual tax of $3,000 to $6,000 on vacant property. The City of Oakland defined its own definition of “vacancy” which each city will do for themselves. The City of Oakland VPT covers both residential and nonresidential property types. City of Oakland Vacant Property Tax. Report to City of Los Angeles Council about vacancy tax applicability to the city.
  2. Unbundle Parking Cost from Rent Cost: Unbundling parking can make housing more affordable because renters can choose to simply rent a housing unit, without paying for the cost of a parking space. Additionally, unbundling the cost of parking from the cost of rent incentivizes people to cut down on their car use so they can avoid paying the parking space fee. City of Santa Monica Unbundling Parking in municipal code. Report from Mike Manville (UCLA) about the benefits of unbundling the cost of parking from rent costs. Article from Mobility Lab about transportation benefits of unbundling parking.
  3. Transfer Tax: “Real estate transfer taxes are assessed on the sale value of a property when it changes ownership. These taxes are sometimes designed as a fee rather than a tax. For example, LA County collects a minimal transfer tax of 0.11% or $1.10 per $1,000 of the sale price. The revenue potential for transfer taxes can be large. The revenues could be spent on a variety of important local efforts including low-income housing construction and rehabilitation, supportive housing and shelters, as well as services for unhoused residents, acquisition of land and at-risk rental properties, rental housing assistance including Housing Choice vouchers, and legal representation for tenants facing eviction or slum conditions.” Report from Shane Phillips (UCLA) on Real Estate Transfer Tax Reform.
  4. Affordable Housing Bond: An affordable housing bond will issue a certain amount of bonds to fund housing projects and assistance for low-income and middle-income households and for people experiencing homelessness. City of Emeryville Affordable Housing Bond, passed.
  5. Create an Affordable Housing Fund, funded by an Impact Fee: An impact fee is a development fee whose purpose is to offset the impact of new development on the need for affordable housing. The fees are collected and dedicated towards affordable housing. Berkeley Terner Center Report on Residential Impact Fees. Grand Nexus Study on Impact Fees in San Mateo County.
  6. City of Pasadena, how the fund their housing department.

Preservation Solutions 

  1. Long-Term Preservation of Housing Subsidies – Community Land Trusts: Housing subsidies can keep affordable housing affordable. However, often these subsidies have a date of expiration, meaning at the time of the subsidies expiration the housing can become market rate housing. Long-term preservation of housing subsidies is needed to ensure that affordable housing, such as community land trusts remain affordable long term. Source 1 from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Source 2, second report from Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
  2. Long-Term Stewardship of Housing – Community Land Trusts: Community stewardship is a necessary part of the long-term response to our housing crisis. It focuses on not only housing but the ground underneath. Source 1 from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Source 2, second report from Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
  3. City Purchases and Covenants (Preserves) Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing: This is a way to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing that low-income households already occupy. This is a fairly affordable way for cities to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing and prevent the displacement of low-income households. If the city does not want to own the housing, they can hand it over to a local community land trust for operation and ownership. Shelter force article on Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing.
  4. Code Enforcement

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing

Housing as a Human Right (Homelessness).

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