By Lynne Bronstein
The City Council and Planning Commission sat in a joint meeting Monday night to review the city’s draft 2013-2021 Housing Element, to hear public comment, provide comments to staff, and direct staff to submit the element to the California State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
The Housing Element is one of nine elements that comprise Culver City’s General Plan and is the only one the state is mandated to review. The Housing Element addresses the vision of affordable housing in Culver City.
Reviews of the element are conducted every eight years. Due to recent legislation, the cycle has shifted in terms of time and it is mandatory that the city adopt a Housing Element by February 12, 2014.
The two governing bodies at Monday’s meeting received an overview by city staff. Associate Planner Jose Mendivil outlined the steps in the review process: “Each city must accommodate a fair share of regional housing needs.” “Fair share” is determined based on statewide growth forecast, with the economic downturn and housing crisis factored in.
One objective in the element is to improve access to quality housing for all members of the community, including those in need of temporary housing and emergency
Specific policies promote, among other things, housing opportunities for
families of all income levels to maintain the family-oriented character of the City,
assistance for first time home buyers, fair housing and non-discrimination in housing
sales and rentals, barrier free housing for persons with disabilities, and assistance
for homeless persons.
There is an “affordability gap” between income and housing costs that must be addressed. To not address it, said Mendivil, could result in problems such as longer work commutes, risk of homelessness, stress and health risks, and overcrowding.
Housing Administrator Tevis Barnes offered more stats that shed light on just what is available in Culver City’s housing stock. Despite the lack of funds from the now-defunct Redevelopment Agency, ”We currently have 559 units with affordability covenants.” These covenants will remain in effect for 35 years. The city also maintains an inventory of group homes for adults with developmental disabilities.
There is hope for those looking for affordable housing via new housing production, the federal government’s Section 8 program, and some assistance programs (unfortunately, many assistance programs are currently de-funded). The City Council has also allocated $150,000 a year to help families coming off the Upward Bound assistance program for families in transition from homelessness.
Several public speakers briefly weighed in on the housing element. Elinor Osgood said she appreciated the City’s low-cost housing options but asked that low-cost housing not be confined to one area of the city but rather spread out so that the low-cost housing did not become “ghetto-ized.”
Larry Kaufman, who described himself as “homeless” but “lucky” to live in a storage room, wanted the element to address the homeless issue. He reminded the Council and Commission about the people living in vehicles who will be impacted by recent and upcoming parking regulations.
Each member of the Planning Commission and each council member gave feedback and asked questions of city staff. Overall, the two bodies were very happy with the report. It was noted that there were a few typos to correct.
Planning Commission members were concerned with some specific statistics in the review such as the success rate of the Upward Bound program (according to Barnes, the program for families transitioning from homelessness to housing has a 95 per cent success rate), and what is being done for job-related housing (Community Development Director Sol Blumenfeld said that the city was looking into the possibility that local companies such as Sony might fund housing for their employees).
Commissioner David Voncannon though that the report contained “a level of frustration” that there were so many problems with finding adequate and affordable housing for everyone.
Council members had more general comments than questions. Meghan Sahli-Wells did have some questions, including an inquiry into how many foreclosures on homes Culver City has experienced during the last Housing Element cycle.
“Surprisingly, not too many foreclosures,” replied Barnes. “Less than 24. The majority were condos.”
Sahli-Wells and Mehaul O’ Leary also were concerned that the City could not do more for the very low-income and homeless.
The entire text of the Draft 2013-2021 Housing Element for Culver City is available for viewing at the city web site, www.culvercity.org/~/media/96E332E6123243E68290FB2D7E65016E.ashx.
The document will be submitted to the state for review and revisions per HCD comments.