Irvine leaders are looking at setting up their own agency to create more affordable housing in the city amid concerns their existing agency isn’t doing enough to get the job done during the statewide housing crisis.
While Irvine’s leads the county in building new housing – largely thanks to developable parcels – it still struggles building affordable housing targeted for low-income families.
That means homes for a four-person family that brings in less than $108,400 annually in Orange County, according to the state Housing and Community Development Department.
Councilwoman Tammy Kim, the current chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, said the city should look at setting up its own housing authority, similar to programs currently operated by the county, Anaheim, Santa Ana and Garden Grove.
“I think we have to look at every tool in our toolbelt, like a housing authority, and we need to explore that to see if that’s a route we even want to go,” Kim said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “It’s something I think we need to look at.”
Irvine is the county’s star city of housing development, building 20,000 more units than any other city in the county during the state’s last development cycle according to the Kennedy Commission, an Orange County nonprofit that tracks development of affordable housing.
But the city’s land trust hasn’t been a big part of that success.
While the trust can’t issue housing vouchers like a potential housing authority could, it was created to purchase land that could then be developed into affordable housing without any expiration date, meaning it could remain cheaper than market rate rent forever.
Since its inception in 2006, the land trust has only created 475 new affordable housing units in the city, most of which are rentals.
From 2014 to 2020, the city saw over 31,000 new units come to the city, 1,149 of which were affordable units for the very low income category according to the Kennedy Commission.
Altogether, the city has over 5,000 units that are considered affordable.
Of the land trust’s units, 184 were built during that time, meaning they represented less than half a percentage point of the city’s overall housing development, and around 16% of the total affordable units for very low and low income housing built during that time.
According to the trust’s financial disclosures, they’re also currently sitting on $77 million in total assets, with annual expenses of just under $1 million in 2022.
Of the $77 million, around $20.5 million represent the trust’s on hand cash and investments.
Councilwoman Kathleen Treseder, who supported considering setting up the housing authority, said that while she wants to learn more about the trust, with that much money they should be doing more.
“First glance, they have delivered far fewer units than I would expect given their budget,” Treseder said in a text on Tuesday.
Kim took over the chair seat after the ouster of Councilman Anthony Kuo in the 2022 November election, and says she’s working to change the culture at the land trust to encourage more active development instead of waiting for available land to pop up.
“I’m not going to say it’s failed, I would say that I would like to see it do more with what it has,” Kim said. “They’ve had great intentions and moving forward, I would like to see a bit more production coming out of the land trust.”
The trust is also looking for a new executive director as founding executive Mark Asturias nears retirement.
Kim also highlighted the proposed authority’s ability to buy land for affordable housing development, but admitted that’s something the land trust can already do.
“I’m not looking to have redundant offerings,” Kim said. “But I don’t think status quo is the answer when we’re trying to find a solution to deal with this crisis.”
Councilman Larry Agran, who was on the council when the land trust started and currently serves on the board, said he felt the trust had performed well since its inception, and pointed out the city’s overall successes with housing development.
“We would like to see it doing more, but that’s because we need to invent ways and means for the land trust to do more,” Agran said. “This is a good time to review what our history has been, what our institutional successes have been and what our institutional shortcomings have been.”
Despite the goal for changes at the land trust, Kim said the benefit of a housing authority is that the city could receive and issue housing vouchers from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, something they can’t currently control as a member of the Orange County Housing Authority.
Currently, Irvine receives around 1,100 vouchers from the county housing authority according to city staff, compared to cities of a similar size like Anaheim and Santa Ana, who’ve received around 6,300 and 3,000 vouchers apiece, respectively, operating independently of the county.
Those vouchers aren’t guaranteed, and would require the city to intervene at the federal level to fight for more vouchers coming to the city.
Mayor Farrah Khan and Councilman Mike Carroll, the latter of whom voted against studying a housing authority, did not return requests for comment.
While there’s no set date for the council’s next discussion on the issue, Kim asked that city staff study the issue and put it back on the agenda before the end of the year.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Since you’ve made it this far,
You obviously care about local news and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford, but it’s not free to produce. Help us become 100% reader funded with a tax deductible donation. For as little as $5 a month you can help us reach that goal.