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Amid affordability crisis, City to host housing study session

The city of Fullerton will host a study session on December 8 regarding the recently-released Housing Element, an important document that outlines both how the City has done in achieving its stated goal of “a supply of safe housing ranging in cost and type to meet the needs of all segments of the community,” and how the City plans to meet the housing needs of residents at all income levels over the next eight years.

Fullerton fell short of its housing affordability goals

According to the Housing Element, Fullerton continues to fall short of its housing affordability goals. An important part of the Housing Element is the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), a projection of Fullerton’s housing needs across all income sectors.

Between 2013 and 2021, Fullerton set a goal of approving 710 housing units accessible to low and very low-income residents. Only 410 were built. Meanwhile, Fullerton set a goal to approve 794 housing units for above- moderate-income residents. In fact,1,230 were built.

Thus, during the last planning period, Fullerton far exceeded its goals for higher-income housing, and fell far short of its goals for affordable housing.

The city of Fullerton does not build housing. However, through its zoning code and other regulatory tools, the City has a lot of control over what type of housing gets built and where it gets built.

The current RHNA numbers are significantly higher than last time. Whereas the goal for total number of housing units was 1,841 from 2013-2021, the goal for 2021-2029 is 13,209 units. This increase reflects the statewide housing affordability crisis.

The draft Housing Element states, “As in many areas of California, demand for housing in Fullerton exceeds supply and housing costs are higher than what is affordable to many households, especially the lower-income segments of the population. The needs of groups such as seniors, service workers, and persons with disabilities are also not being adequately met by current housing options. The policies and programs set forth [here] are intended to expand the supply of housing for all segments of the population to help ensure that Fullerton’s current residents and workforce will have the opportunity to live in the City.”

The Housing Element lists some successes that the City has achieved over the past eight years in facilitating affordable housing projects, including the Compass Rose Apartments (45 units for very-low and low income households), Habitat for Humanity completed eight three-bedroom units and has an additional four under construction, and the City is in the process of working with an affordable housing developer for surplus land at 1600 W. Commonwealth.

Housing (un)affordability in Fullerton

The Housing Element contains data about housing and affordability in Fullerton.

According to federal and state guidelines, housing is considered “affordable” if monthly housing cost is no more than 30% of a household’s gross income.

Among Fullerton’s renter households, 58 percent spend 30 percent or more of gross income on housing. Additionally, 27 percent of renter households in Fullerton spend 50 percent or more of gross income on housing.

According to recent HUD data, households with extremely low incomes (ELI) experience the highest rate of overpayment, with 77 percent of Fullerton ELI households paying over 50 percent of income for housing.

One visible consequence of housing unaffordability is the rise in homelessness. According to the most recent Point-in-Time survey conducted in January 2019, there were approximately 308 unsheltered homeless persons in Fullerton, and an additional 165 living in shelters. That number has more than doubled from two years prior.

Fullerton opened its first Navigation Center (homeless shelter with social services) in 2020. Unfortunately, funding ran out earlier this year, and City Council allocated federal emergency funds to keep it going for the next six months. Its future is uncertain.

Fullerton’s plan: Housing Incentive Opportunity Zone and Religious Institution Properties

Housing Elements are required to contain an inventory of land suitable for residential development, including vacant sites and sites having potential for redevelopment.

Fullerton’s draft Housing Element “determined that the City’s current land inventory for potential residential development is not sufficient based on current zoning to accommodate the RHNA in all income categories for this projection period. Therefore, candidate sites for rezoning must be identified.”

The City has proposed two major zoning code changes to address this shortfall:

Housing Incentive Opportunity Zone (HIOZ): An overlay zone that allows a property owner to develop multi-family housing on a parcel with a non-residential underlying zoning classification (such as commercial or industrial) in exchange for providing a specified percentage of deed-restricted affordable housing units.

Religious Institution Properties: Allows properties containing religious institutions to also be developed with permanent supportive housing and/or deed restricted affordable housing.

The housing element states that these zoning amendments will be processed between 2022 and 2024.

The Housing Element contains an extensive list of potential properties for new housing development to reach the RHNA target of 13,209 units. Nearly all of these are on the properties of religious institutions and commercial or manufacturing zones. Most of these sites could likely not be developed for housing until Council approves the above-mentioned zoning changes.

The Housing Element contains many other goals to facilitate housing development including streamlining the permit process for affordable housing, encouraging mixed-use development, using Surplus Land for affordable housing, encourage construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and lot subdivision.

Review the Draft Housing Element

To read the draft Housing Element visit https://housing-game-plan-fullertoncagis.hub.arcgis.com.

The study session will take place at 6:30pm during the Planning Commission meeting at City Hall (303 W. Commonwealth Ave). Residents are encouraged to participate either in person, via Zoom, or over the phone. For Zoom, visit www.zoom.us/join, enter meeting ID 817 7019 4829. For telephone call 1-669-900-9128  

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