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CRACKING THE CONUNDRUM
Part Two: What To Do about Housing
Dwight Worden | City Council Member

Ed. note: Part I of this two-part series appeared in the September issue of the Sandpiper.  Click here to see the first part of the series.

While the state has set mandatory affordable housing goals for Del Mar, we have flexibility in how we get there. Many strategies are included in our current Housing Element. If Measure R (Voter Approval For Certain Development Projects) passes this November, some of the key Housing Element strategies will be subject to voter approval. If voted down, Del Mar could be found out of compliance with our Housing Element and subject to severe state penalties—including the courts ordering our zoning to be changed to accommodate more density. So a priority for me is for Del Mar to have a “Plan B,” a way to meet our housing goals no matter how things turn out on the ballot. We simply cannot let our local zoning control be usurped by the state or by the courts.

Our current Housing Element is well thought out, and already contains most of the pieces for an effective Plan B. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Here are some additional components I could see working in a Plan B:

Granny Flats. These are allowed now in Del Mar up to 550 s.f. in size, but they are counted as part of allowed Floor Area (FAR) and are not required to be rented at affordable rates. Very few, if any, have actually been built. We could encourage such units by exempting them from FAR, reducing permit fees and otherwise facilitating their development, if the owner agrees to rent them at affordable rates. This could potentially increase intensity on a given lot up to 550 s.f., but I think that is a tolerable trade off. I would much rather have a few dozen of these small units judiciously scattered around town in areas where they fit in than new high density complexes mandated by the state or courts.

Seniors could add one to their property for a caretaker as they get older. They could build and move into one when they no longer need as much space, renting their larger home for income. Families could provide housing for college students or adult children. These small units can be absorbed consistent with our Community Plan and community character.

Del Mar Could Buy Units to Rent. Del Mar could buy an existing complex, rent some units at market rates to help cover costs, and rent some at affordable rates, subsidizing the difference. We already have a rental assistance program administered by DMCC and funded by the City. But because Del Mar doesn’t own the units, when our funds for this program are gone, we’re done. The annual subsidies cost more than the in lieu housing fees that are paid in, so this program is not self-sustaining. If Del Mar owned rental units we would be secure for the long term and protected against rising property costs.

Similarly, we could buy an existing apartment complex, convert it to condos, sell some at market rates to help recoup costs, and sell some at affordable rates to meet our housing goals.

These ownership strategies would not jeopardize our community character as they do not require new construction (other than perhaps interior and access improvements), and would enable Del Mar to control how the units are used long term. I have thoughts on how to pay for these ownership strategies but that’s for another article.

Del Mar could partner with a private non-profit housing corporation for assistance and ongoing management. Options based on Del Mar ownership avoid giving in to state control and maximize local control.

Fairgrounds. The Housing Element identifies options for providing affordable housing at the Fairgrounds. The Fairgrounds needs housing for its employees and for the fair and races. Del Mar can get “credit” for such units if they are built to state standards. Existing backtrack housing does not meet standards. It is time to pursue working with the fairgrounds to upgrade these units to meet their needs and City needs. If we are to have higher density projects in Del Mar, the fairgrounds can be as good a location as we have within our corporate limits. And wouldn’t it be nice, for a change, to work with the fairgrounds on a project of mutual benefit?

CONCLUSION
Del Mar’s state-approved Housing Element has 60 programs to meet our state and local goals. We should fashion a Plan B, adding new programs to meet state requirements in positive ways even if voters disapprove parts of Plan A. That’s miles better than having a program imposed on us by the state or by the courts. And affordable housing goals are important on their merits, state requirements aside. Don Mosier and I have reactivated our Housing Element Committee. We’ll be working on all these issues and welcome your input.
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