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La Habra will soon require a portion of new multi-family housing units to be available to low-income buyers or renters.
Editors’ Note: This dispatch is part of the Voice of OC Youth Media program, working with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Digital Editor Sonya Quick at email@example.com.
The City Council in early April voted 3-2 to give final approval to what’s being called the “inclusionary housing” ordinance, with Council members Tim Shaw and James Gomez dissenting. This is a change from mid-March’s first vote on the issue, which was 3-1. Shaw had voted no and Gomez had abstained.
The state assigned the Southern California Association of Governments to create zoning plans for 1.3 million homes across six Southern California counties, the Voice of Orange County previously reported. The Regional Housing Needs Assessment for La Habra, mandated by state housing law, requires the city to zone for about 800 new housing units by 2029, according to a city staff report.
Of these, 366 units are supposed to be for those with above moderate income, 130 units are for moderate income earners, 116 units for those in the low income bracket, and 192 units must be for very low income residents.
The city’s new ordinance is applicable to projects of 10 or more residential units, requires that 15% of the units of a proposed residential housing development be affordable, and allows developers the option of paying an in-lieu fee to the city instead of providing affordable units as part of their project, said the staff report. At least eight cities in Orange County have also adopted inclusionary housing ordinances.
La Habra received four public comments and one email regarding the ordinance.
One commenter voiced support for the ordinance.
“I don’t want to leave La Habra due to rent. My kids love the schools (here). I just ask that if you guys could take housing into consideration, that will make a big difference for a lot of parents in La Habra,” she said.
Another commenter, who spoke at both readings of the ordinance, opposed the legislation. He used the city of Santa Ana, which adopted a similar housing opportunity ordinance in 2015, as an example.
“Santa Ana established the in-lieu fee to $15 per square foot … 2,900 units were approved over that five year period and not one moved forward to pull a permit under that $15 fee,” Steve LaMotte, executive officer of the Building Industry Assn. of Orange County, said during the March meeting.
Council member Shaw strongly opposed the regulation, agreeing with LaMotte’s example.
“We are intending to make housing affordable for some folks, but the unintended consequences of doing that is actually to raise the price of housing for most people and to harm property values,” Shaw said. “I’m afraid this is a very bad idea and I will be opposing it.”
Shaw further clarified that complying with the Regional Housing Needs Assessment means the city has zoned and planned for those units, not that the units have been physically built in the city, deeming the ordinance unnecessary.
Council member Gomez said he wanted more time.
“I was on the fence last meeting and I abstained on this situation … I just think we need to not run hastily into making a decision,” explained Gomez.
Andrew Ho, the city’s director of community development, explained the purpose of an inclusionary housing ordinance.
“The ordinance is a tool that you can use to reinforce the policy of providing more affordable housing units. Without it, you are then setting a policy to leave it up to developers and the staff to look for opportunities to capture these numbers,” Ho said.
There are consequences if a city doesn’t meet its Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers. According to the staff report, the city may be given a four-year cycle instead of an eight-year cycle to achieve its requirements, the city could lose grant funding, the state could refuse to certify the city’s general plan, and the city may lose its control over land use decisions.
“More and more middle-class income earners are finding themselves struggling to afford a decent home; I just want to make sure that we have a tool available,” said Mayor Rose Espinoza. “I think this will really benefit the community.”