Facing pressure from the state to address California’s housing crisis, cities across Orange County like Fullerton are contemplating how to incentivize the construction of affordable homes by making developers build them.
It’s an idea debated by many city councils throughout the county: Will developers provide affordable housing on their own or should cities require a certain percentage of homes be made affordable in housing developments?
Over the years, some OC city council members have created mandatory affordable housing policies, also known as inclusionary housing policies, that force developers to account for low income housing in their proposals.
Some policies allow for the developer to instead pay the city a fee in lieu of building affordable homes themselves – those funds are generally earmarked to build affordable housing.
While Fullerton City Council members are still in the early stages of tinkering with the idea of an inclusionary housing policy, they narrowly voted 3-2 Tuesday night to direct staff to come back with an in-depth analysis of similar policies in other cities.
“Let’s see if we can get together as much information as possible and then have maybe a skeleton of an ordinance put together or policy ideas, I suppose that we can maybe give direction to,” said Councilman Ahmad Zahra at Tuesday’s meeting.
But Councilmembers Bruce Whitaker and Nick Dunlap, the two dissenting votes on the council, aren’t convinced that such a policy will be fruitful.
“Rather than creating an ironclad kind of policy, you’re much better off to work with incentives. If you’re going to look at individual projects, you’re able to tailor that rather than, again, broad stroke, just making this policy that affects all corners of our city,” Whitaker said, pointing to a CalMatters opinion article.
Whitaker also said forcing developers to build affordable housing would drive up rents.
“It’s a little bit like a dog chasing its own tail to some extent. The more that we force upon developers, the more that rents are going to increase so it does have its downside as well,” he said.
Councilman Jesus Silva, who called for the discussion on the policy with Zahra, pushed back against a notion that the policy would scare away developers from Fullerton.
“It just seemed to me like we really focused on the developer not making the profits versus the benefits that those inclusionary housing can bring to our city,” he said.
“Some of the council members have been concerned about ‘Well, that’ll stifle developers coming in here. They won’t come in here.’ I’ve spoken to some of the council members in the cities, and they’re still getting developers going in there,” Silva continued.
Dunlap expressed concerns and opposition – calling the policy “Draconian in nature.”
“I think to point to Santa Ana as sort of a model city for housing policy in Orange County. I mean, that’s quite laughable and I think even people in Santa Ana would tell you that,” he said.
Other cities like Anaheim have resisted calls to create their own affordable housing policy.
Locally, housing advocates say the creation of more affordable housing would help tackle Orange County’s homeless crisis and help people struggling with rent in a county in desperate need of low income housing.
Some have spoken in favor of inclusionary housing policies arguing they could help produce more affordable homes.
At the same time, the state’s housing community and development department have increased pressure on cities to increase their housing stock by forcing them to zone for more homes.
The state has tasked the Southern California Association of Governments, a regional body made up of local officials, to determine where they would put 1.3 million new homes by 2029.
In turn, that body tasked cities across Orange County to collectively zone for over 180,000 new homes between 2021-2029 in what some local officials say is an already built out county.
Over 75,000 of them have to be for very low to low income families.
If an OC family of four makes less than $67,750, they are considered to be a very low-income family. If they make less than $108, 400 they are considered a low income family, according to the state’s Housing and Community Development Department.
In OC, the median income for a family of four is $119,100, according to the department.
Officials in roughly half of the county’s cities, including Fullerton, filed appeals to bring their mandated housing numbers down and some criticized the methodology used to divide the number of homes across cities in the region but those appeals were denied
They, including officials in Fullerton, have also argued for greater local control on zoning and housing issues .
Fullerton, a city with nearly 142,000 residents, has to zone for 13,209 new homes – 3,198 of which have to be for very low-income families and 1,989 for low-income families by 2029.
According to the U.S. Census, about 13% of people in Fullerton live in poverty. The data does not show how many housing units are in the city.
Like in many other cities in Orange County, Fullerton is yet to have its housing plan approved by the state.
Fullerton officials have struggled to meet state mandated affordable housing goals in the past without an inclusionary housing policy.
In the previous housing cycle, Fullerton was tasked with zoning for 1,841 homes between 2014-2021 – 411 of which had to be for very low income families and 299 for low income families.
One local nonprofit housing advocacy group found Fullerton failed to meet its mark during the last housing cycle.
According to data compiled by the Kennedy Commission, a non-profit that works to bring more affordable housing to Orange County, 1,683 homes were built in Fullerton during that time period – 1,260 of which were for above moderate income families.
Meanwhile, 265 homes were built for very low income families and 145 homes were built for low income families during that time period, according to the commission.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Dunlap called the policy “unwarranted” in Fullerton.
“Staff is quite busy. This would in fact require reports through the city manager’s office just to tell us how long it would take for staff to continue to study this internally and I think at this point, that’s not something that’s required or not something that’s warranted.”
It is unclear when the discussion on an inclusionary housing policy will continue in Fullerton.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam
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