Like all states, cities in California are subject to rules and regulations determined by the State, and the State of California has decided that all its cities must ensure that affordable housing is provided for lower income residents of the surrounding County. Using a complicated formula that appears more suitable for bigger cities with developable open space, California has determined that Del Mar must make sure 61 units are provided as follows:
Income 1-5 person households
In response to the State mandate, Del Mar adopted a formal Housing Element as part of its Community Plan, and the Housing Element was certified by the State in June 2013. Unfortunately, no new affordable units were developed, and the State has imposed an additional requirement of 15 units bringing Del Mar’s mandated total to 76 units. We have no problem with meeting the above moderate target, so the bottom line is that we need to achieve 22 affordable units.
If Del Mar does not comply with the State mandate, the State has indicated it has the right to override Del Mar’s zoning and land use regulations and permit developers to build at high densities anywhere in the City and exempt such projects from the normal approval process including Design Review Board. Such an outcome would almost certainly damage the charm and character of the community.
City Council adopted an initial five year plan of delivering 22 units for low income residents and has tasked the Del Mar Housing Corporation, supported by the Finance committee and city staff, to work with consultants to formulate a plan to solve the problem of providing affordable housing in Del Mar.
The task will be challenging. Del Mar has access to few available land parcels, the cost of development is high, and existing land and housing costs are very high. Previously, the City Council adopted an ordinance that permits “granny flats” in single-family zones if the owner commits to renting the units to lower income residents, but no one has taken advantage since the ordinance was adopted in 1999. The Council has also reached out to the Del Mar Fairgrounds to determine if a joint project could be developed at the Fairgrounds to accommodate lower income employees there, but progress has been slow.
The City has provided rent subsidies to eight lower income resident families in the past in concert with Federal funds, but such funds are being withdrawn, making subsidies more expensive for the City. More recently, Council agreed to establish a $2 million affordable housing fund to assist in meeting affordable housing goals.
The proposed Watermark project, as recently modified, includes 6 low-income units, but the project has not been approved.
Possible solutions to the low income housing quandary include developing city owned sites, buying existing housing units and renting them to lower income residents, increasing rent subsidies to eligible renters, adding incentives to the zoning ordinance to encourage development of “granny flats,” and reaching agreement with the Fairgrounds for development of affordable rental units.