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Housing Crunch Hits Angels Camp

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As Angels Camp officials update the housing element of their general plan, it´s becoming clear that affordable housing is a major concern.

The new document is part of an overall upgrade of the city´s General Plan, and is also required by the state to be updated by Dec. 31, according to Angels Camp Planning Director Amy Augustine.

City planning commissioners reviewed and modified the plan July 10, recommending that the City Council authorize staff members to forward the document to the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

The council is scheduled to review it during its regular meeting, 6 p.m. tonight. It eventually will go to the state for more modification, then back to the city.

Much of the document focuses on the city´s future housing needs to the year 2008 as outlined by the Central Sierra Planning Council, a multi-governmental organization comprised of Calaveras and surrounding counties and cities.

Needs are assessed in four income groups covering gross annual wages for a family of four.

Development is moving at full speed to meet the upper end. Only 22 more units are needed to complete the Above Moderate forecast and 19 remain for the Moderate level, Augustine said. None of the 108 units in the Low and Very Low range have even been started.

Affordable housing runs the gamut of prices, accommodations and options for the buyer or renter. It can include subsidized housing, although that´s not the only element, Augustine said.

The goal is to have housing or land available that the city´s residents can afford, Augustine said, adding that housing should not cost more than one-third of an owner´s or renter´s gross income. That comes to maximum of $8,800 a year for residents in the Very Low category and an average of $11,441 a year for those in the Low division.

And while the chart is based on families of four, Augustine noted that the latest statistical information reveals the largest segment of city residents below the poverty level are single women, under 65, living alone.

A lack of affordable housing is not unique to Angels Camp or Calaveras County, according to Wes Kulm, from the Calaveras County Affordable Housing Coalition, a group of volunteers from local government, the real estate community, and organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. “It´s an issue across the entire state,” Kulm said.

The problem is more acute in rural areas, Kulm said, which often provide little in the way of subsidized and affordable housing for that segment of the population. “Market rate housing simply cannot accommodate their needs,” he added.

The plan includes several recommendations for improving the situation, some of them suggested at the last Planning Commission meeting. The major emphasis in this plan is to provide opportunities for the “infill” areas, those open lots existing in the city´s long-established neighborhoods, where duplexes or triplexes could be built.

More far-ranging plans are also included. One of the more controversial suggestions is the drafting of an “inclusionary ordinance” which requires residential developers to dedicate a percentage of their total units for low-to-moderate income households.

That´s opposed by the Calaveras County Association of Realtors. Because of high fees and taxes, it´s difficult for builders to make a profit on affordable housing, said Valeska Gallagher, association political affairs representative.

To counter the high fees, the developer will tack the profit loss on to the cost of the other homes “which in turn will raise their affordability level even higher,” Gallagher said.

Such a negative impact affects a large portion of the population seeking moderate housing, such as those employed as police, firefighters, teachers, office workers and hospital employees, Gallagher said. “We must not drive these people out as they play a huge role in the successful operation of businesses and services for our county,” she said.

The Housing Element lists 13 occupations expected to provide the highest number of job openings through 2006. It includes cashiers, waiters, food preparation workers, general managers, and maids, as well as those professions listed by the Realtors Association.

Kulm noted that most of those jobs fall in the low-income category, with some offering just $8 an hour.

A quick check of some beginning salaries reveals an Angels Camp Police officer earns $37,044 a year; a teacher at Bret Harte High School makes $34,047; and a nurse at Mark Twain St. Joseph´s Hospital earns $49,940.

Real estate agents in all areas of the state are opposed to inclusionary proposals, Kulm said.

“But it´s proven time and time again that´s the single most effective way of generating housing that cuts across all sections of the income spectrum,” he said. The housing plan does stipulate a developer could pay in-lieu fees in place of actually constructing the affordable housing units.

Gallagher and Kulm are both wary of that option. Kulm said that even when placed in an interest-bearing account, those fees don´t always keep pace with inflation and don´t cover as much of the costs of affordable housing when they´re finally spent.

The Realtors Association would like to see a deadline attached to the fees, so they can be returned, with interest, to the developer if not spent within a certain period of time, Gallagher said.

The real estate community will play a large role in developing affordable housing, Augustine said, and more study of the issue may produce different roles for the real estate profession and developers beyond the inclusionary proposal.

“You never know until you get it out there and start debate,” Augustine said.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Craig Koscho.

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