Affordable-housing advocates sue Folsom
By Loretta Kalb
Published: Monday, Sep. 5, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Sep. 5, 2011 - 12:43 pm
After the city of Folsom stopped requiring developers earlier this year to provide low-income units with every large residential project, housing advocates talked of filing suit.
It didn't take long.
Within months of the City Council's January vote, Legal Services of Northern California and the Public Interest Law Project sued the city on behalf of the Sacramento Housing Alliance to block the action.
The suit in Sacramento Superior Court urges the judge to halt the issuance of any building permits for market-rate housing and to block zoning changes until the issue is decided.
On its face, the lawsuit seems simple enough.
The Housing Alliance complains that by voting to quit the ordinance, which called for affordable units with large market-rate projects, the city lost a primary tool to ensure it will meet future housing needs for residents of all income levels.
"The city of Folsom really has not developed an impressive track record in producing affordable housing," said Brian Augusta, a board member for the Housing Alliance.
Instead, he said, the city over the past decade or so "has produced a tremendous number of high-end, single-family homes and lots of commercial development that has produced low-wage jobs in the retail sector."
Less apparent is that the stakes over the issue have risen significantly since the City Council voted in June to seek annexation of 3,500 acres south of Highway 50.
"The question everyone is asking is, without that inclusionary ordinance in place, are they the best stewards of this land?" Augusta said.
It's not the first time the city of Folsom has been sued over affordable housing.
The city settled a similar suit filed a decade ago by Legal Services of Northern California on behalf of a low-income Folsom resident. To help resolve that case, the city approved the very ordinance it abandoned at the start of this year.
The ordinance had required builders of residential projects with 10 or more units to set aside 15 percent of the homes for limited-income occupants.
With its elimination, voluntary initiatives would get the job done, city officials said in January.
The mandatory approach has not worked, council members said then, and it helped stymie market-rate projects by squeezing developers during the real estate slump.
"All you ideologues out there may think you have the theoretical solution" to getting affordable housing built, Councilman Jeffrey Starsky told members attending the council meeting.
But, he added, "this is the city that actually puts things on the ground and gets it done. You will see in the next 10 years we're going to actually build this stuff."
In the ongoing suit, the Housing Alliance complains that the city has failed to act in accordance with its own housing element, a document in which a community defines its future housing needs and the policies and the programs established to achieve them.
But Folsom City Attorney Bruce C. Cline said the city has other effective ways to ensure affordable housing outside of an inclusionary ordinance.
"Our City Council has remained committed to the production of affordable housing," Cline said. "Our method by which we choose to generate affordable housing is different than that of the Sacramento Housing Alliance."
City officials have long said that other initiatives for low-income properties are filling the breach within the next three years, including 215 units now under construction or in the pipeline.
USA Properties Fund has a 55-unit project on Greenback Lane that will be finished in eight months, said David Miller, Folsom's community development director.
Another affordable property developer, St. Anton Partners, is nearing a development agreement for 80 units, Miller said.
He said still another 80 affordable units by Lewis Development at Parkside are also on tap, pending the outcome of a lawsuit against the state over the future of redevelopment agencies.