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Report finds affordable housing deficits in SLO County, Paso Robles takes action

Paso Robles city leaders move forward with plan to improve affordable housing options
Posted at 11:19 PM, Aug 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-07 02:21:33-04

Paso Robles City Council decided Tuesday to move forward with a goal to improve affordable housing options in the city, after a recent grand jury report identified countywide shortfalls.

All of the major cities in San Luis Obispo County must respond to the grand jury report that was issued just a few weeks ago.

"The grand jury said what we’ve all known for a longtime, which is that affordable housing is a huge challenge for San Luis Obispo County,” Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin said.

The issue of affordable housing countywide is so serious, the grand jury report says, it’s reached the level of "crisis."

"When we think of people who can’t afford housing, we often think of people receiving public assistance and those working at minimum wage or entry level jobs," the report states. "Yet, in this county, some of the people who cannot afford housing includes elementary school teachers, bank tellers, and many government workers. It includes most of the people working in our largely agriculture and tourist-driven economy."

According to that recently released report, many working class families can’t afford to live in San Luis Obispo County.

That’s in part, the report states, because five times more high income housing was built in the county between 2014 and 2018 than low income options.

“Whenever there’s an inventory increase, obviously there’s concern among citizens," Martin said. "'How is this going to affect quality of life, the roads, water and sewer.'“

The housing inventory has increased countywide but data shows cities, including Paso Robles, aren’t meeting the targets for low income units.

The city of Paso Robles fulfilled 75 percent of its low income housing goal over those four years, but also permitted fewer high income units than it projected.

Meanwhile in Pismo Beach, less than 20 percent of its low income goal was met while it exceeded the high income unit target at about 380 percent.

The grand jury suggests hiking fees for developers who choose not to offer an affordable unit, something called an "in-lieu of" fee.

"In-lieu fees are controversial and can be seen as a loophole for developers," the report states. "By paying the fee, which is often well below the cost to build the unit, developers are able to avoid building any required inclusionary units and maximize their profit by building at market rate."

That money goes into a fund within each city to help bolster low income housing.

Tiny homes, modular units and prefabricated homes were also suggested in the grand jury report as options to support low income residents.

One speaker asked the Paso Robles City Council about converting vacant local hotels into affordable units, which the council agreed is a possibility.

Mayor Steve Martin said his city is committed to bridging the gap.

“We’ve reduced development impact fees, we’ve facilitated an acceleration of plan process procedure," Martin said. "So a lot of the things the grand jury has called on the cities to do, we are doing or in the process of doing.”

In the response the Paso Robles City Council agreed upon Tuesday, they said they will also make it easier to find low income housing by streamlining the listing in one place online.

The City Council also agreed to consider ways to reduce permitting fees and obstacles for affordable developments.