By JEFF CLEMETSON | La Mesa Courier
On Oct. 15, the city of La Mesa held a virtual workshop for its upcoming housing element update to the general plan. The update will reflect the city’s needs for housing units based on more recent data. The update is required by law every eight years.
For the eight-year cycle beginning April 15, 2021 and ending in 2029, San Diego County’s Regional Housing Needs Assesment (RHNA) is 171,685 new units. La Mesa’s allocation of that — decided by SANDAG — is 3,797 units.
According to data provided at the workshop, La Mesa is already well on track to more than meet the 3,797 unit goal. Senior Planner Allyson Kinnard said there are 700 units currently under construction or approved for construction; a projected 800 accessory dwelling units (ADUs) will be built by 2029; “expected” projects in the city will bring an estimated 3,300 units; and there are 500 units that were identified in previous cycles that have yet to be developed, totaling 5,300 units the city is prepared to build without any rezoning required.
Whether or not that number of units will be built is not a requirement of the update.
“The update only asks if you are able to meet [the housing goal] by providing sites that are adequately zoned so that housing can occur,” said Veronica Tan, a consultant hired by the city to help with the housing element update. “It is not an obligation to build the units, it’s an obligation to plan for the units – that you have the capacity locally to accommodate the RHNA.”
Although the workshop showed that the city is well prepared in its zoning to meet its housing requirements, there were some troubling data points on housing.
One is that data shows that La Mesa — and nearly all other cities of its size in the region — has a housing affordability problem. Currently, 47% of La Mesans are considered “cost-burdened” by housing, meaning they spend over 30% of their income on housing. Another issue of concern is overcrowding. Currently, 4.4% of households in La Mesa are considered overcrowded.
Included in the RHNA are housing goals for different income levels, although there are no provisions to mandate cities to build them. Instead, cities and the state rely on incentive programs and negotiations with developers to get more affordable units built. For the upcoming eight-year cycle, La Mesa’s income level goals are 859 very low income units; 487 low income units; 577 moderate income units; and 1,874 above moderate income units. Income level housing is based on a household’s area median income (AMI), with very low being 50% or below AMI; low, 51 to 80% AMI; moderate 80 to 120% AMI; and above moderate above 120% AMI. As of April 1, 2020, the median income in San Diego is $92,700.
A workshop attendee pointed out that the goal for low income housing is nearly double that of the previous housing element cycle and the city was unable to meet that goal by a wide margin.
“Virtually no jurisdiction in the state does [meet its low income housing goals],” Tan said.
It was also noted that the low income housing goals for the previous cycle were created during the Great Recession and the goals for this upcoming cycle were created during “peak conditions” for production. Tan said that the numbers cannot be altered by law once approved by the state, despite the fact that economic conditions could deteriorate to a worse level than the last recession due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One area that the city will be able to look at and update ordinances for are homeless shelters.
“Specifically, when it comes to shelter options and housing options for the homeless, for all income and all ability, the city will be updating or amending its ordinance,” Tan said, adding that La Mesa will include transitional supportive housing in that ordinance update. “And there will be other types of amendments – the emergency shelters ordinance will be amended to make it more flexible based on new state law. There is also the low-barrier navigation centers that the city will be providing provisions for that is housing for the homeless while they are waiting to be transitioned to permanent housing.”
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.