Winters city council confronts zero vacancy rate with affordable housing plan

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With a zero-percent vacancy rate crippling the Winters housing market, city officials dedicated a significant portion of their Tuesday meeting to discussion regarding lack of housing—especially affordable—within city limits,  how the city and state work together to provide it.

City Manager John Donlevy told city officials and other attendees that the problems facing Winters homeowners and renters are emblematic of larger trends across the state, like the cost of labor on construction sites, but he outlined steps the city can take in association with larger organizations.

Donlevy emphasized that it was important to build a variety of houses, such as large family homes and small apartments available for individuals, and to make sure it’s inclusionary. “Inclusionary,” or affordable housing, refers to housing units priced to adhere to specific segments of the general population. The city and state should also work to incentivize developers, who might not bid on housing projects that deliberately keep rents lower than market price.

Legally, the city has several specific roles they must perform in order to adhere to the affordable housing codes, such as maintenance and general upkeep, with other roles performed by California agencies and private firms. One goal Winters lacks in this arrangement—a lack many Winters citizens may resent—is that housing must be built statewide where it is needed, not at the discretion of the cities and towns.

If there’s a statewide need for affordable housing in Winters, the decision is not left to the people already residing there.

Winters only adopted an affordable housing program in 1992 after the Michel V. Winters lawsuit, which upheld Winters’ non-compatibility with state guidelines and ordered them to comply in three areas: inclusion of an affordable housing plan in the general plan, not plan for affordable housing in flood overlay zones (where 10% of affordable housing plans remain); and to adhere to an additional five percent affordable housing requirement to the city for 15 percent, as opposed to Yolo County’s 10 percent requirement.

That means 335 affordable housing units in Winters, whether they be four-bedroom apartments for families, or smaller units designed for single people with roommates.

The city and state also work under plans like this in order to incentivize developers, who might not bid on housing projects that deliberately keep rents lower than market price. The state provides funding and across the system while the city works to expedite the process on the ground, working with local laborers.

All of this comes a decade after Gov. Jerry Brown nixed state redevelopment funds during the budget crisis.

Donlevy assured attendees that the plan will be completed and enacted in the General Fund in the coming weeks, meaning more affordable housing options are on the horizon.

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