Humboldt County lagging in low-income housing

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – Humboldt County’s planning director has told the Board of Supervisors that the county isn’t meeting its low income housing development goals despite having zoned more than enough land for it.

Planning Director John Ford updated supervisors at their July 31 meeting on the implementation of the county’s General Plan and its Housing Element.

The Planning Department has released a report to the state assessing the county’s 2017 housing development activity.

Ford said the report “shows how we’re doing relative to build-out and that there is sufficient number of vacant lots available to build housing” and the county is “a little bit behind” in meeting its state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) goals.

Part of the reason why is that “counties throughout California seem to get a disproportionate share of the obligation of the RHNA obligation,” he continued.

Ford added that “it’s not because there is a shortage of available sites to build,” as the report identifies that there are “in excess of three or four times, maybe five times, the number of vacant parcels needed to meet those goals.”

According to the report, there are 351 parcels zoned for multifamily housing in the county unincorporated area, which have the potential to provide 1,497 units.

But when it comes to building them, an area where the county is “lagging” is in the low-income housing categories.

Ford said it’s “very difficult” to provide housing at that level without either an inclusionary zoning program – requiring portions of low income housing be included in new development – or “some kind of constant source of funding.”

He added, “We have neither of those right now.”

The county considered inclusionary zoning several years ago but developers were opposed to it and a program wasn’t launched.

An affordable housing trust fund has been created and is in an initial stage. Last January, supervisors approved putting a surplus county property on Lucas Street in Myrtletown up for sale, with the proceeds going to the trust fund.

When Supervisor Estelle Fennell asked about workforce housing, Ford said that in Humboldt County, it’s most relevant to “market rate kind of affordability,” referring to pricing that matches the real estate market and not affordable housing standards.

“A large portion of the housing that is constructed is constructed within those parameters,” he continued.

From 2015 to 2017, the county lacked development of multifamily housing in unincorporated areas. According to the county’s housing status report, there were 119 units permitted for construction in 2017. Market-rate or moderate income homes accounted for 85 of those units and the rest were a combination of second units, manufactured homes and above moderate income homes.

Seven permitted units did fall into the very low income category and 15 were in the low income category. Twelve permitted units were priced at the above moderate income level.

At last week’s board meeting, supervisors approved a rezoning requested by the Kramer Properties company that will allow the development of 66 affordable multifamily units on a 2.2-acre parcel in Myrtletown on Hubbard Lane near the intersection of Harris Street.

But Supervisor Mike Wilson said overall progress on providing lower-income housing is limited and “even with the Kramer Properties (project), we’re still pretty low on the low and very low income level housing numbers.”

He added that “I don’t see how, in terms of the General Plan, that there are a lot of sites that are allocated that are super-buildable or investable that we’ve seen, otherwise people would be moving toward that direction.”

Wilson asked about the possibility of getting state credit for “being an ally with Eureka or Fortuna or Arcata in building within city limits,” and whether the county should advocate for that.

Ford said the state doesn’t recognize county/city collaborations but it’s something that should be lobbied for, as cities are “most appropriate” for housing due to proximity to services, transportation and utilities.

During a public comment period, Blue Lake-based developer Kent Sawatsky said his effort to develop senior affordable housing in a county area has been undercut by zoning issues and the high cost of Fieldbrook Community Services District sewer and water hook-ups.

He recommended giving developers more incentives to build out the types of housing the county needs most.

Community Planning

The county’s status report also updates implementation of community plans.

For the McKinleyville Community Plan, policies awaiting implementation include adopting design review standards for the Town Center area and forming a design review committee.

The county will also adopt a design review ordinance to establish “clear development standards.”

A Trails Implementation Plan will also be drafted, with a “trail by trail review” including recommendations on how easements can be secured and “under what circumstances dedication of easements might be required.”



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