Redwood City Studies Developer Housing Fee: Planning Commission Considers Community Benefits Program

By Bill Silverbarb

As Redwood City embarks on ways to draw more benefits out of future developments, its residents have made it clear what is needed the most is affordable housing.

The city currently does not charge developers a fee to add to the city’s stock of affordable housing but has joined with other cities to study the feasibility of such a program.

The city, especially downtown, is experiencing an unprecedented growth spurt currently with the construction of new offices and apartments.

Affordable housing advocates, however, contend the boom is leading to escalating rents and pushing out the city’s working poor.

On Tuesday night, the city’s Planning Commission heard a report from Principal Planner Diana O’Dell on the proposed framework for a Community Benefits Program that includes the possibility of imposing new fees on developments to offset their impacts.

Since the state dissolved all redevelopment agencies in 2011, the city lost its primary way to fund affordable housing developments, O’Dell wrote in a report to the commission.

A countywide study is currently underway to study the feasibility of establishing an Affordable Housing Impact Fee.

Although rent control is not being considered as part of the benefits program, most of the public that spoke at Tuesday’s Planning Commission said the city must do something about making the city more affordable for its low-wage workers.

“The foundation of a thriving community is jobs, affordable housing and mobility. San Mateo is the least affordable county in the United States,” said Michelle Beasley with the nonprofit Greenbelt Alliance.

Diana Reddy, with Redwood City Residents for Housing Security, told the commission that child care workers are critical to the community and must be able to afford to live in the city as well as those who provide in-home supportive services for the elderly or individuals with disabilities.

Reddy led a march in downtown Redwood City Saturday where about 200 people highlighted the impacts higher rents are having on the city.

Tom Leinberger participated in the March and noted Tuesday that 47 percent of Redwood City residents are renters.

“Rents have gone up 40 percent in the past 18 months but no one is getting a 40 percent raise,” Leinberger said.

Colt Reimer said workers at small businesses deserve to live near their jobs.

“Two or three families living in one little apartment is inhumane and not sustainable,” Reimer said Tuesday night about what families endure to live in the city.

The city’s planning department has conducted a couple of workshops about community benefits and residents have overwhelmingly said affordable housing tops the list, O’Dell said at the meeting.

Funding public art ranked second, establishing a prevailing wage ranked fourth and parks ranked seventh on the top 10 priority list, O’Dell said.

The commission also discussed how to incentivize developers to hire locally by establishing a prevailing wage for construction jobs.

The city currently has no “concrete requirements” on what developers should pay those who work in the trades, however.

The City Council will consider the framework for the Community Benefits program either at its March 9 or March 23 meetings.

This article was originally published on February 19, 2015 by The Daily Journal.

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