Dig into Green Zone Infill Housing Strategies with Local Developers and Policymakers

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On November 18, 2021, the SACOG Board of Directors participated in a Green Means Go Workshop to discuss local policy changes that could accelerate infill housing in Green Zones. This workshop built off the recent roundtable discussions that SACOG staff had with public sector partners and infill housing stakeholders in which they discussed the current state of Green Means Go funds, identified what the next steps should be in state advocacy, and explored local policy changes that can maximize the funding impact of Green Means Go. While SACOG staff awaits the draft program guidelines from the California Department of Housing and Community Development, they brought in a panel of market rate and affordable housing developers as well as representatives from local jurisdictions to continue this conversation with the SACOG board.

Doug Shoemaker, president of Mercy Housing California, the largest nonprofit housing provider in the United States, has experience in affordable housing that goes beyond his work in Sacramento. Shoemaker has been working in housing policy since 1995 for California and is a nationally recognized expert on inclusionary housing and mixed-income development. During his presentation to the board, he drew from his vast experience in the affordable housing field to explain how infill housing development can be catalyzed. He said, “It all starts with the housing element inventory.” Shoemaker stated that affordable housing overlays could help to incentivize affordable development, and these sites could benefit from reducing or removing parking requirements and increasing allowed densities. Once the housing element sites inventory is established, Shoemaker points out that jurisdictions will have streamlining benefits and an opportunity to move discretionary approvals to “by right”, which reduces risk and costs for builders.

Deana Ellis, vice president of Cresleigh Homes, has extensive experience in mixed-use development and project entitlements, and is known for her work on challenging infill projects. During her presentation she agreed with Shoemaker about reducing parking requirements and added that Cresleigh Homes is developing most of their apartments with all electric vehicle parking as they see fewer individual parking demands due to the increased use of ride services, transit, and bicycle/pedestrian connectivity. Ellis recommends reducing parking ratios, and encouraging fee reductions for developers who are designating drop-off and pickup zones for car share and ride services, and suggests facilitating conversations with transit agencies, especially in the suburbs, to connect transportation opportunities to major corridors to further reduce the reliance on single-occupant vehicles. She followed up with a request to assess housing impact fees on a square-foot basis rather than a per-unit basis, which would encourage affordable product design and a more diverse mix of uses.

From the public sector, board members heard from Aaron Laurel, city manager of West Sacramento, and Shawna Purvines, deputy director of the Community Development Resource Agency of Placer County, who shared their perspectives on local policy changes. Laurel has been with the City of West Sacramento for the past 17 years and has worked for most of his career in economic development and affordable housing. He explained three ways local governments can accelerate infill housing: “First, make changes to local land use regulations and impact fee structures to make it as easy and inexpensive as possible for infill to happen. Second, outdated infrastructure and land assembly are the primary barriers to infill and, lastly, there needs to be changes at the state level which will only happen when local governments have exhausted every tool available to them.”

Shawna Purvines has worked in the SACOG region on commercial and housing projects for the last 20 years. During her presentation she offered insight as to how Placer County is planning to meet their housing needs. Placer Country created a Housing Strategy and Development Plan that looks at code amendments, financing opportunities, and other strategies that were previously mentioned to support infill development. She continues, “But over time, standards and ordinances have gotten in the way of being able to achieve those visions.” From there, Placer County is looking at ways to break down barriers to reduce the cost and risk so that they can invest in their infill and corridor areas. Currently, Placer County is working on a package of Housing Code Amendments that includes expanding the density bonus ordinance beyond minimum state requirements, using unit size for impact fees, adding in mixed-use zones, making changes to development standards, and transitioning to more by-right housing development, all of which will increase predictability and benefit infill projects.

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