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Housing Squeeze
May 2009 | Bud Emerson, Klish


Providing affordable housing is legally required for every city in California, even high-priced Del Mar. In addition to the state's legal mandate, there is also a very practical and moral issue of finding housing for at least a few of the estimated three to four thousand persons who work in Del Mar, ranging from gardeners to waiters to teachers to city employees.

The draft of Del Mar's General Plan housing element explores some innovative ways to achieve our housing goals. These are in addition to the eight families who currently receive rental subsidies from our Housing Fund. Each of the following four proposals will find its way to our public agenda for consideration during the next year or so.
The first and simplest idea is to provide incentives for small second units (granny flats) on existing houses. The idea is a pilot program to allow a small increase in floor area requirements for a limited number of houses per year (only houses whose current floor area is 2000 square feet or less). The pilot would allow only 6 units in the first year so we could assess neighborhood impact before proceeding with more units in future years. These units would be well suited for occupants with annual incomes of less than $45k such as household employees, students, senior relatives, teachers, or other public employees--all of whom are already part of our community.

The second idea is to create an amnesty program for existing illegal units. During a one-year window, such units could be legalized, without penalty, if they meet code requirements and owners agree to rent them only to income-qualified occupants.
The third idea is to encourage small "mixed-use" residential units in existing or new business developments. Such units would be well suited for maintenance-security personnel or retail shop employees.

The fourth idea is a pilot program to allow an existing apartment rental building to convert to condo ownership if a percentage (e.g. 25-50%) of the units are deeded to the city to provide affordable rental opportunities. The financial incentives for the apartment building owner to cooperate with such a condo conversion are significant. The advantage for the city is that we could gain control of rental rates on a number of units, where rental rates are now escalating because of rising market rates. By limiting this pilot to one building, we can assess the pros and cons of continuing such conversions of other buildings.

All of these ideas need a lot of community conversation and careful consideration by our Planning Commission, Design Review Board, and City Council. Doing nothing is not an option; so let the conversation begin.

Bud Emerson is on the Board of Del Mar’s Housing Corporation.


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