Richmond mayor releases strategy to expand affordable housing

A map excerpted from Mayor Tom Butt's new housing strategy shows planned affordable housing in red and planned market rate housing in black. The blue markers signify the city's existing affordable housing.

A map excerpted from Mayor Tom Butt's new housing strategy shows planned affordable housing in red and planned market rate housing in black. The blue markers signify the city's existing affordable housing.

Attendance at last week’s city council meeting may have been sparse, but it was a big day for Mayor Tom Butt, whose staff unveiled the mayor’s first-ever housing strategy before the council.

The 35-page policy document, which was announced in a press release prior to last Tuesday’s meeting, details the mayor’s plan to increase the availability of affordable and market rate housing in Richmond.

Councilmembers received the strategy with unusual consensus. Vice Mayor Eduardo Martinez and Councilmember Nathaniel Bates, who historically have not seen eye-to-eye on housing issues such as rent control, both said that Richmond needs to be more aggressive in tackling the city’s housing crisis.

“Should we not be designating certain areas for low-income housing?” Bates asked the council. “We just keep waiting.”

Martinez agreed, adding that the council needs to “start thinking of developing a Richmond that is common to everyone.”

The mayor’s plan puts development front and center, framing it as a preferable alternative to Measure L, the rent control ordinance that will appear on the ballot in November. References to Measure L bookend the document, and a full section of the report is dedicated to the shortcomings of rent control and just-cause policies.

Butt argues in the plan that rent control policies “discourage housing development and exacerbate accessibility issues for those in the lower income brackets due to lack of affordable housing units,” citing a 2016 Beacon Economics Report commissioned by the California Apartment Association.

But the mayor’s office maintains that the document isn’t a response to the rent control ordinance.

Director of Policy and Strategy Alex Knox said the plan has been in the works since spring of last year, when Butt assembled a task force of local experts to assess the city’s housing conditions.

“People have been asking for this, whether they’re for or against rent control,” said Knox, who presented the strategy to the City Council last Tuesday evening alongside the mayor’s Director of Community Engagement Christopher Whitmore.

Zak Wear, campaign coordinator for the pro-rent control Fair and Affordable Richmond coalition, said he read the plan as a rejection of Measure L, couched in an outline of the “existing consensus” about housing development in Richmond.

According to Butt, there’s some truth to Wear’s assessment. The housing strategy was intended to focus on “something we all agree on,” said the mayor, rather than on rent control, which the council is divided on.

To the mayor, that “something” is the affordability of housing in Richmond, which he sees as a supply problem. “The only solution to high housing costs is to increase the supply,” said Butt in the forward to his housing plan.

That supply could also enable Richmond to play “an important role…in the Bay Area housing crisis,” said Knox to the council.

Unlike Oakland and San Francisco, Richmond has struggled to attract investors, which the mayor’s plan attributed in part to a “negative image” of the city that “may no longer be accurate but continues to persist.”

“I’m not quite sure what it takes regionally for people to realize that this is an outstanding place to invest in,” said Richard Mitchell, Richmond’s Director of Planning and Building, to the council at Tuesday’s meeting.

The mayor’s plan takes a detailed look at funding sources to boost housing development. Potential financing opportunities include using in-lieu fees paid by market-rate developments to support affordable projects, establishing a local Housing Trust Fund for regional developers, and utilizing California’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, among other state and federal sources.

Other strategies in the plan include turning vacant blighted and abandoned residential properties back into productive spaces and expanding the city’s inclusionary housing policy, which currently restricts the cost of sale and rental units for a 30-year period.

The mayor’s strategy also focuses explicitly on affordable housing for low-income residents.

According to the plan, Richmond currently has just under 3,000 affordable rental units, most of which are designated for very low income households—those that earn below 50 percent of the Area Median Income, about $27,000 annually in Richmond. Over 8,300 Richmond households earned below $25,000 from 2009 to 2013, according to the city’s General Plan 2030.

A map included in the plan shows sites of large-scale planned housing projects. Planned market-rate developments are concentrated in the more affluent areas of Richmond’s South Shoreline and Hilltop neighborhoods. Most of the planned affordable housing sites are located near the Richmond, El Cerrito del Norte and El Cerrito Plaza BART stations, and the Capital Corridor that runs through the city’s core.

Knox said that this imbalance is intended to ensure that low-income residents have access to public transportation routes that bisect the city. The plan follows “traditional housing trends over the course of multiple decades in Richmond,” he said.

A comprehensive zoning update based on goals set by the General Plan 2030 is also in the works. The update will supplement the mayor’s plan by determining where housing development will be permitted. One of the mayor’s suggested modifications to the zoning plan is to expand the city’s ability to add units in neighborhoods already approved for affordable housing.

The mayor also suggests pursuing “accessory” units, such as converted garages and guest apartments, as potential sources of affordable housing, and improving homeownership assistance and local preference policies in subsidized and new housing in order to “curb displacement.”

One notable omission from the plan was a plan to reduce homelessness in Richmond.

“The problem with using the market to develop housing is that it doesn’t take care of the homeless,” said Martinez at the meeting.

Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin also voiced her concerns about homelessness: “These are real, live current day problems, and they can’t wait.”

Butt responded that he refrained from addressing the issue of homelessness “head-on,” noting that his plan is intended as a living document that council members and the public will be called upon to improve.

8 Comments

  1. Confidential Commenter

    This makes far more sense than Measure L, which will do more harm than good just like similar policies have in Berkeley Oakland and San Francisco. I would actually like to see more nicer development downtown near the Bart station. That whole area is already full of low income housing and that is a big reason the efforts to redevelopement the downtown have failed for 50 years. Jerry Brown understood that concept when he was mayor of Oakland and laid the groundwork for that cities rejuvenation.

    • John

      I agree that there needs to be an even distribution of market rate and affordable housing across the city (preferrably located together within the same developments). Concentrating low income units in one part of the city seems destined to repeat the failed housing policies of the mid-twentieth century that, along with red-lining and white flight, led to the ghettoization of so many American cities. It’s hard to believe that the mayor’s office would be so out of step on this.

      • Confidential Commenter

        Well said John. Though I’m not so sure the mayor’s office is out of step with this but rather trying to find common ground with the ideological zealots on the council. It’s interesting to note that the creators of the Section 8 program basically had this same concept in mind when designing that program. Although the Section 8 program hasn’t worked out like that I think the concept is still valid, and the mixed developments as you describe will more effectively implement them.

  2. jclevine@comcast.net

    Why not this and Measure L. Don’t we need to keep hitting problem with a variety of solutions since there are such a great variety of needs.

    • Confidential Commenter

      Because Measure L is regressive, and actually doing things like building housing units and encouraging people to get into the housing provider business is progressive. I think the vast majority of people who support Measure L only think ‘ rent control’ and do not understand all the other provisions in the measure that is going to encourage the following:
      Drive small owners out of the business, meaning more units owned by large investor groups. Not a good thing for renters.
      Encourage owners to raise rents and raise them at each allowed increase. Who do you think is going to pay the multiple millions Measure L is going to cost? YOU the renter will in increased rents.
      Just cause will encourage owners to be very selective in who they choose to rent to. I already know people who are keeping their units empty till they see how things play out.
      Now the version of rent control that was supported by Vinay Pimple for example, wold have been a good idea and had wide support. It would have capped rent increases to a certain amount set to avoid the negative regressive effects that rent control like Measure L is going to cause. It’s worth looking up his explanation for a better account.

      • Richmond Resident

        Labeling rent control as, “regressive” doesn’t make sense. It is a hallmark pro-worker policy going back a hundred years, with entire countries in Europe practicing it.

        We know that just going market-rate and building doesn’t curb gentrification. A casual look at what is happening in highly pro-development cities like Denver will show you this.

        Small owners are not driven out of business. By definition, rent stabilization is just that, stable, not downward. Property owners are entitled to fair return on investment under constitutional law, and they will get it through rent adjustments even if costs somehow outpace inflation.

        Measure L will cost nothing compared to the rents saved for the average family in Richmond. What would you rather pay, $12/mo or a $500/mo rent increase? In Berkeley, rent-controlled units on average pay $1000/mo less than market rate, it’s doing it’s job to protect people. What is regressive is the penny-wise, pound foolish logic of, “well your rent board fees will cost you more!!” when the savings provided are on an order of magnitude greater.

        Vinay Pimple’s proposal did not have wide support. If it did, it would be on the ballot, or it would be law today. In reality it was a proposal that created no energy in the community to make it happen. Measure L on the other hand does and will likely pass.

        Building new housing is critically important. The mayor is trying to scare us into thinking that rent control will keep us from attracting developers, when in reality, developers from around the world are banging down the door in Oakland, Berkeley and SF. Developers want to build in places where people want to live, and rent control makes a city a much better place to live for everyone.

        • Confidential Commenter

          “A casual look at what is happening in highly pro-development cities like Denver will show you this.”
          A casual look at San Francisco Oakland and Berkeley will tell you otherwise. You are fooling yourself with your extremist ideology. How’s rent control actually working here in the Bay Area? Why havent the things you say will happen happen there since they have rent control already? Why are people from those areas fleeing them for Richmond?

          “Small owners are not driven out of business.”
          Nonsense. I personally know people who are selling their units because of it. There is ample evidence to back that claim.

          “By definition, rent stabilization is just that, stable, not downward.”
          Like in Berkeley Oakland and San Francisco? Again, the facts state otherwise.

          “Vinay Pimple’s proposal did not have wide support. If it did, it would be on the ballot, or it would be law today. In reality it was a proposal that created no energy in the community to make it happen. Measure L on the other hand does and will likely pass.”

          It had enough support that it could have passed a council vote and been enacted into law a year ago. It was the RPA who didn’t want it.
          It’s interesting to note that even city manager Bill Lindsay, when asked his opinion, recommended starting out with a less extreme version of rent control.

          “Measure L will cost nothing compared to the rents saved for the average family in Richmond. What would you rather pay, $12/mo or a $500/mo rent increase?”

          That’s great Zak, but what about everyone else whose rent is going to be increased to cover the costs of the rent board and associated costs? Sure there are a few lucky winners, but over time they lose as well. Owners are already pricing in those costs in their current asking rents, and it’s more like a couple hundred bucks more per month. Who is going to pay all those millions for cushy jobs on the rent board for RPA friends? Renters are in increased rent, it’s already happening.
          Yes Measure L will probably pass. Pat yourself on the back. But it’s only a matter of time before people realize it isn’t going to have the effect they were promised it would. The overwhelming majority of economists agree, and that is a fact.

          “Building new housing is critically important. The mayor is trying to scare us into thinking that rent control will keep us from attracting developers, when in reality, developers from around the world are banging down the door in Oakland, Berkeley and SF. Developers want to build in places where people want to live, and rent control makes a city a much better place to live for everyone.”

          Developers are banging down the door in those cities yes, but that’s not exactly the case here in Richmond. In highly desirable cities like those you mention developers are not discouraged because of Costa Hawkins primarily, new units are exempt. How will rent control effect future development in Richmond? I think it could go either way. On the one hand if the demand is there they will build because they are exempt. What I think the bigger factor will be is how many ideological zealots are running the city. We have already seen these zealots help to kill the Berkeley Global Campus project and please don’t tell me that’s a lie invented by the mayor. A spokesperson from the campus back up the mayors comments in a newspaper that even Zak Wear calls “real journalism”.

          • Confidential Commenter

            “Labeling rent control as, “regressive” doesn’t make sense. It is a hallmark pro-worker policy going back a hundred years, with entire countries in Europe practicing it.”

            re·gres·sive
            rəˈɡresiv/
            adjective
            1.
            becoming less advanced; returning to a former or less developed state.
            “the regressive, infantile wish for the perfect parent of early childhood”
            2.
            (of a tax) taking a proportionally greater amount from those on lower incomes.

            Try finding Section 8 housing in Berkeley before you tell me how wonderful rent control has worked there. Tim Jones of Richmonds housing authority has publicly stated that he has received many inquiries from Section 8 participating owners wanting out .
            Is he a liar too? Only you know the real truth right? Just like Donald Trump……

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