American Canyon is exploring how to require a certain percentage of low- to moderate-income rentals be included at future apartment complexes without driving developers away.
“We do want to be a mixed community,” City Councilman Kenneth Leary said. “And the people who are low and moderate, they do a lot of the jobs we depend on every single day.”
A moderate-income family of four earns a maximum of $109,000 annually, a low-income family $74,500 and a very-low-income family $46,550, based on the county’s median income of $91,000, Community Development Director Brent Cooper said. Median monthly rent for a one-bedroom American Canyon apartment is $2,100.
“That’s even more expensive than a low-income family of four could afford,” Cooper said. “So definitely housing costs, even for rent, are pretty high.”
The City Council on Tuesday told staff to further work on a possible inclusionary rental housing law that will come back for consideration at a future meeting.
American Canyon previously had an inclusionary housing law that required 10 percent of apartment projects be affordable. It eliminated the requirement in the wake of a 2009 court case involving Los Angeles that struck down such laws in the state.
Recent state housing legislation makes inclusionary rental housing laws possible again. American Canyon is interested.
“There are businesses that cannot recruit workforce or retain workforce because of the cost of housing,” Mayor Leon Garcia said. “It’s something we need to address.”
City Councilmember David Oro quoted figures from Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, that in the early 1960s, California had 15 million people and built 250,000 to 300,000 homes annually. Today, it has 40 million people and builds 80,000 homes annually.
“The way we get the housing crisis solved is to build more housing in every jurisdiction,” Oro said.
City Councilmember Mark Joseph proposed American Canyon require 15 percent of new rental housing projects be affordable. Of that, 5 percent would be very-low income, 5 percent low income and 5 percent moderate income.
Garcia liked the moderate income requirement, given there are few programs to help this bracket.
“That’s called ‘the missing middle’ in many places,” Garcia said.
Oro wondered if 15 percent would be too much. Then developers might simply look at other cities.
“I really like your idea, Councilman Joseph,” Oro said. “I just wonder if it’s market-bearable.”
No one from the development community addressed the City Council. The Building Industry Association Bay Area couldn’t be reached for a comment on Thursday afternoon.
The council talked about making the law flexible. One idea is a developer might drop from 15 percent affordable units to 10 percent. In return, the developer would make the units affordable in perpetuity, as opposed to what city officials called the standard of 55 years.
Developers might demonstrate that inclusionary housing for a certain project is infeasible and pay an in lieu affordable housing fee.
“If it’s a do-this-or-else type of ordinance, then yes, you’re going to drive people away on it,” Garcia said.
But, Joseph said, “The bar ought to be 15 percent and how you get there is where the flexibility comes in.”
Another option is for American Canyon to stick with the affordable housing fee of $3.68-per-square-foot per rental unit that it charges to rental housing developers. The fee has raised about $270,000 since its 2016 inception.
City staff doesn’t recommend that option because inclusionary housing can be built more quickly than an affordable housing fee project. The Valley View affordable housing project was approved in 2011 and took eight years to build, a city report said.
The city of Napa is also looking at rental inclusionary housing and is studying whether the requirement would restrain development. But American Canyon staff doesn’t recommend waiting for the Napa study before acting. If some findings apply to American Canyon, the city can revisit its law, a city report said.
The City Council will continue its discussion at a future meeting. It first took up the issue on April 16.
American Canyon has a separate inclusionary housing law for ownership housing projects. The 2009 court decision effected only rental inclusionary housing laws.