Redwood City takes steps to boost investment in affordable housing 

Residents participating in recent community workshops have told Redwood City officials that below-market-rate housing is their No. 1 housing-related concern, said city Economic and Community Development Director Aaron Aknin, who added that concern is shared by a cross-section of citizens at various income levels.

The city is responding with a recently announced set of initiatives that include investing in below-market-rate housing, increasing the housing supply and attempting to keep existing housing stock affordable, Aknin said.

On the investment end, Aknin said California’s dissolution of redevelopment agencies in 2012 created a challenge, because redevelopment money had been Redwood City’s biggest source of funds for below- market-rate housing. He noted, however, that requiring new developments to include these types of housing components is one way to partly make up for the absence of redevelopment funds.

The new One Marina housing development has been an important funding source, Aknin said, because the developer opted to pay $1.425 million into the city’s below-market-rate-housing fund in lieu of including such units in the development. That money will be used in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity to construct a 20-unit, transit-friendly below-market-rate housing complex in the downtown area.

And in this case, that could mean one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments priced within reach of residents whose incomes are classified as low or very low, Aknin said.

“The cool part is we’re able to leverage these funds with the federal funds that Habitat for Humanity has access to,” Aknin noted.

That project won’t be the only new downtown development to offer below-market-rate housing, according to Aknin, who noted that the City Council has asked his office to issue a request for proposals to build low-income housing on a 1-acre, city-owned parcel located at 707 Bradford St.

Also on the investment front, Aknin said the city is crafting its Partnership Redwood City program, which would require builders of certain market-rate and commercial developments to provide various community benefits, which could consist of some below-market-rate housing or paying into the below-market-rate housing fund.

In order to make sure those requirements are consistent with prevailing standards, Redwood City is participating in the Countywide Nexus Study, in which the cities of San Mateo County are working together to learn the best strategies for assessing and implementing the community impact fees they could require developers to pay.

“If community impact fees are ever challenged by developers, we want to make sure all the cities involved are reading off the same page,” Aknin noted.

Another issue the city is exploring is whether to ease restrictions on adding secondary in-law units to homes. Aknin explained that if current restrictions are relaxed, that could not only increase the city’s housing supply, but also encourage owners of currently illegal in-law units to bring their properties up to code.

Safety issues are also a factor with some older apartment buildings that lack sprinkler systems, Aknin said, and as part of its Fire Safety First program, the city plans to offer property owners low-interest loans so they can have fire suppression systems installed.

Aknin noted, however, that in order to qualify for the loans, landlords would have to agree to stabilize their tenants’ rents for a certain number of years.

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