Contra Costa to change affordable housing rules

Rick Radin

Contra Costa is reacting to falling property values and the rising cost of services by lowering fees for developers to buy out of providing low-income housing and raising fees for building inspections and other services.

Since 2006, developers who build condominiums have had to sell 12 percent of the units to people with moderate incomes and 3 percent to those with low incomes or pay a fee. The fees go into a county fund to pay other developers to build affordable housing.

With the recent decline in property values, moderate income buyers can afford to pay the market rate for a home, so the county is eliminating the fees, said Catherine Kutsuris, the county’s director of conservation and development. Contra Costa is also cutting by nearly two-thirds the fee that developers pay to avoid pricing 3 percent of for-sale units for low-income buyers by nearly two-thirds.

“We still have an affordability gap for low-income residents, but we’ve determined that those with moderate incomes no longer need a subsidy,” Kutsuris said.

An advocate for inclusionary housing and an original backer of the Contra Costa ordinance lamented the adjustments.

“Inclusionary ordinances were not put in the good times to be thrown out in the bad times,” said Jeremy Madsen, executive director of the Greenbelt Alliance in San Francisco. “It’s really disappointing and shortsighted.”

The county is also suspending a fee to buy out of an affordable housing requirement in apartments while it reviews a Los Angeles court decision. The decision threw out the rental component of another inclusionary housing ordinance, saying it violated state law. Previously, apartment developers had to rent 12 percent of units to people with low incomes and 3 percent to those with very low incomes or pay a fee.

“The courts have found that we really can’t have a rental component to an inclusionary housing ordinance,” said Kara Douglas, a senior planner in the community development department.

The county also raised the fee for a building inspector visit from $25 to $50 to reflect the higher costs of an inspection. The $25 fee had been in effect since 1997.

Contra Costa also increased fees for refinancing and issuing mortgage credit certificates for affordable housing. The certificates allow federal tax credits to homebuyers who qualify based on income.

Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the changes.

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