Updated Placer County Housing Element First in Region to Integrate MTP/SCS Growth Forecast
New housing element full of practical, sustainable, “Placer-ized” solutions
May 26, 2021: Even before the pandemic, southwest Placer County was on everyone’s list of places they wanted to live. That high demand continues as the Sacramento region grows while the state overall has shrunk. For their part, Placer County is taking the demand seriously and met the challenge head on with a suite of forward thinking policies and programs in their recently adopted housing element that covers the unincorporated county. State law requires local jurisdictions to update the housing element of their general plan every eight years to identify policy or zoning changes that may be needed to build enough housing for current and future residents across all income ranges.
The land use data that underpins SACOG’s Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy drives housing allocations for jurisdictions across the region, and Placer County is the first to update their housing element to match. In all, the housing element includes 58 policies (23 are new) and 49 programs (28 are new) that will guide how the unincorporated county will plan for nearly 8,000 housing units by 2029: 7,419 in western Placer and 485 in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The unincorporated county covers a wide variety of communities but the county has crafted a housing element that is able to approach growth in each of them.
“We’ve taken an exhaustive look at every layer of the housing crisis and ‘Placer-ized’ the best practices we could find from around the country to address every single one of them,” said Shawna Purvines, deputy director of Placer’s Community Development Resource Agency. “Government alone can’t solve this, but we are doing everything within our power to help our community partners and developers provide the housing options our residents in all income ranges want and need.”
To address its housing need without rezoning a single acre of open space or agricultural land, Placer’s housing element calls for exploring higher housing densities over the next three years in certain high opportunity areas already zoned for residential or commercial development. The housing element identifies 32 possible rezone sites totaling 165 acres for consideration. Placer County will study the sites for development feasibility, infrastructure capacity, and proximity to services like public transportation.
The Sacramento region has struggled to build enough multifamily housing products in existing communities. These housing products, which include everything from small scale “missing middle” housing like fourplexes and townhouses to larger apartment buildings, tend to be more affordable because they have smaller unit sizes and use less land per home. Placer County is addressing this both through increasing building height limits and removing lot coverage requirements, which will allow more projects to qualify as by-right, making them simpler for developers to plan and build. They are also amending zoning to encourage a mix of dwelling types and sizes in high resource areas as well as distributing missing-middle promotional materials to developers.
Another way Placer County is encouraging housing growth in existing areas is by not only meeting the state’s new accessory dwelling unit (ADU) law, but going beyond it by offering three free floorplans with 13 variations that are pre-reviewed by the building department, developing a promotional campaign, and potentially even offering an ADU loan program. ADUs go by many names such as granny flats, in-law suites, converted garages, backyard cottages, and basement apartments but all are self-contained homes that are on the same property as the main dwelling and are often built to house aging family members or as a rental investment.
The housing element also includes a funding plan to add $575,000 to the Housing Trust Placer, which will be used to help fund a variety of affordable housing projects and existing housing programs. That’s an important down payment for a county that’s experiencing remarkable growth and understands the importance of keeping a variety of housing options within reach of its existing residents.