Posted by: Bob Silvestri – June 8, 2023 – 11:53am

Every article we read these days about affordable housing legislation presents formulas about what percentage of new units need to conform to various percentages of “median income” or “middle income” or “area median income” or other such standards to qualify for government subsidy, waivers, bonuses, and other developer incentives. These rules require things like 10% of new units must be for 30% of median-income households, or 20% of new units must be for 80% of middle income households, or 100% of new units must be “affordable,” defined as serving households earning up to some other percentage of area median income or whatever.

If you find this confusing, you have lots of company.

Taken together, the number of formulas and calculations that can or cannot apply to any particular project is so ambiguous, overlapping, and sometimes contradictory (Density Bonus laws, streamlining review laws, HUD rent standards, etc.) that almost any project could be argued for or against on technicalities. But then, that argument would come before a Superior Court judge, the vast majority of whom have no expertise whatsoever in real estate development, finance, or these laws and the definitions of terminology found in them (e.g., what being “substantially compliant” with state housing law really means?).

Meanwhile, after 15 years of passing more and more aggressive housing laws in California, since the passage of SB 375 in 2008, each removing more and more layers of local planning and zoning powers and increasing development ‘rights’ to housing developers, the state has little to show for it: particularly with regard to providing housing for low and very-low-income residents.

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Bob Silvestri is a Marin County resident, the Editor of the Marin Post, and the founder and president of Community Venture Partners, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community organization funded by individuals and nonprofit donors. Please consider DONATING TO THE MARIN POST AND CVP to enable us to continue to work on behalf of all California residents.