Economic Development, Government, and Real Estate

City mulls changes to housing strategy

Neighborhood groups encourage city to further examine affordable housing plans.

March 30, 2018
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Public reaction to the city’s Housing NOW! strategy is mixed, with many saying little attention is being paid to neighborhood concerns.

City commissioners discussed several changes to the proposal during their March 27 meeting.

The original proposals were made by the Housing Advisory Committee Mayor Rosalynn Bliss appointed in 2016 to further recommendations based on input from residents, stakeholders and city staff. The HAC presented its proposals to city commissioners last May.

The recommendations included in the Housing NOW! package are:

1. Proposed ordinance amendment to reduce payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) fees

2. Proposed policy amendment to provide homeownership incentives

3. Proposed ordinance to provide incentives for small-scale development

4. Proposed policy amendment to provide incentives for affordable housing in the NEZ tool

5. Proposed policy to encourage voluntary development agreements for affordable housing

6. Proposed ordinance to provide incentives for increased density

7. Proposed policy to provide requirements for affordable housing whenever the city is a partner in an affordable housing project

8. Proposed ordinance to permit accessory dwelling units by right

9. Proposed ordinance to permit non-condo, zero-lot-line housing

10. Proposed ordinance to regulate rental applications

11. Proposed policy to establish the Affordable Housing and Preservation Fund

The city commission referred items three, six, eight and nine to the city planning commission, which reviewed and made changes based on a series of community input and information sessions.

The HAC originally proposed reducing the minimum unit width from 18 feet to 14 feet and allowing the construction of two-family residential developments, within the Low Density Residential zoning district, within 100 feet of mixed-use commercial zone. The planning commission proposed changing the area to 500 feet.

Planners also recommended eliminating the HAC’s proposal for design guidelines to be developed prior to adopting the zoning amendment.

“However, if resources were allocated by the city commission for such a function, (the planning commission) would support that,” added Suzanne Schulz, city planning director.

The Planning Commission recommended several changes to the language of item six. Originally, the amendment recommended affordable housing bonuses for developments with at least 20 units and located within 300 feet of a transit line.

Planners said these criteria were not necessary for developments to be eligible for the bonus and recommended they be eliminated.

Commissioners did recommend adding a failure-to-perform clause with penalties if the affordability requirements were not maintained and compliance for annual reporting and price thresholds through the development’s deed.

Item six recommends a development must provide at least 30 percent of its units at or below 60 percent AMI.

Item eight details a zoning text amendment allowing development of an ADU with administrative approval within residential zoning districts.

Several regulations were proposed after two neighborhood input sessions and a meeting with housing developers and architects in late 2017.

Modifications included:

  • Modify minimum lot area of 5,000 square feet to lots meeting the minimum lot area for the applicable zone district

  • Regulate maximum building height for detached ADUs

  • Permit two-story detached ADUs

  • Increase floor area ratio between ADU and primary structure

  • Eliminate maximum occupancy and number of bedrooms

The planning commission supported the changes to the amendment.

Planners also suggested changing the required number of attached single-family units per structure to eight and changing the distance from mixed-use commercial zoning districts from 100 feet to 500 feet.

The proposed amendments drew mixed reactions from members of the public at the meeting.

Angelique DuPhene, secretary of the Garfield Park Neighborhood Association, said the GPNA board favored the proposed changes.

“We are proud of the diversity of our neighborhood and our goal is to preserve the ability for people of all incomes and backgrounds to be in our neighborhood,” she said on behalf of the board. “Our neighborhood has seen few new housing units, yet home and rental prices continue to rise.”

DuPhene said the board believes the proposed changes are a “good first step” to address the affordable housing shortage, but GPNA also recommended the city monitor the impact of these changes and address exclusionary housing practices based on race.

“Housing supply will not protect our most vulnerable neighbors,” DuPhene said. “It will not ensure the benefits of investment in the city are available to all residents regardless of income or race.”

Lisa Baars, co-president of the Heritage Hill Neighborhood Association, voiced opposition to the zoning amendments. In a letter to the city commission, Baars stated the zoning amendments do not specifically provide or protect affordable housing and will likely concentrate wealth in higher demand areas.

“The process and text of these proposals have disenfranchised neighbors who have worked so hard to improve their neighborhood and this city,” Baars said.

The Heritage Hill letter echoed similar arguments among neighborhood residents who feared zoning amendments to spur affordable housing developments would lead to a loss of property value for adjacent residents.

Nick Dobkowski, a member of the Creston Neighborhood Association board, said his association does support the changes to item six, but three, eight and nine are in need of revision.

“It’s been said previously that resident voice was not overwhelmingly considered here, and we think there’s space for that to happen,” he said.

The Creston neighbors were particularly concerned with recommendations three and nine, which the association believed did not reflect what residents discussed with the planning commission and were changed to be broader than their original intention.

In response to public concerns, Jon O’Connor, First Ward Commissioner and chair of the HAC, said he believed much of the opposition to the ordinance proposals came from a misunderstanding of what the current zoning ordinances allow.

O’Connor argued the framework to build more affordable housing units already exists, but historically was not used to facilitate such developments. He said the proposed amendment changes were made with the approval and input of the nonprofit housing sector and with the intent to take full advantage of forms already in place.

“I think people feel like we’re trying to create something other than what already exists,” O’Connor said. “Most of the forms were created 80 to 100 years ago when the zoning was created. We’re allowing things that were historically allowed but have not been created in a long time.”

O’Connor said the item three amendment — changing the minimum unit width from 18 feet to 14 feet — would allow space for more units to be built.

“What we’re trying to say is traditionally you can build narrow properties and it works,” he said. “If you reduce the property width and reduce the setback, now you have the ability to add to inventory.”

Similarly, the item nine amendments would ideally maximize the use of space for attached single-family units.

“Right now, in order to build a small project for ownership, you have to build that as a condominium unit,” O’Connor said. “If we amend the zoning code to a zero-lot-line, it allows cheaper properties to be built.”

Ryan Ver Wys, CEO of Inner City Christian Federation, said the recommendations could add various types of housing that would be more affordable by virtue of size and varied type.

But he added ICCF understood the concerns among residents and neighborhood associations that the proposals were issued too quickly to allow for adequate consideration of public opinion.

“We would recommend that the commission delay voting on these proposed changes by 90 days to give the city staff additional time to convene public meetings for continued education and dialogue,” he said.

Currently, the city commission will not move forward with the proposed amendments. O’Connor said the city will continue to build dialogue with neighborhood associations, citizens and the development sector about proper measures.

Commissioners will discuss the issue again April 10.

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