With deadline looming, council approves housing element

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The Winters City Council held the final public hearing on the sixth cycle of the Housing Element Update at their Sept. 7 meeting.

Every eight years state law requires the city to update its Housing Element, a component of the city’s general plan. The deadline for submission of the 2021-29 Housing Element was Sept. 12. Had the council not approved it by this deadline, the city would have been required to update the Housing Element in four years, not eight.

The Housing Element acts as a blueprint for the city’s housing and requires responsive strategies for affordable homes to meet the housing needs of people across all income levels.

Winters Housing Program Manager Dan McGuire recommended the council adopt the Housing Element Update.

“The Housing Element is a comprehensive statement by the City of Winters of its current and future housing needs and proposed actions to facilitate the provision of housing to meet those needs,” said McGuire.

McGuire turned the presentation over to Beth Thompson, principal with De Novo Planning whose firm the city contracted to prepare the Housing Element. Thompson gave a slide show presentation of the Housing Element Update with revisions similar to the one she gave at the Planning Commission’s Aug. 24 meeting.

Thompson said there is presently adequate housing capacity to accommodate moderate and above moderate-income levels, but a shortage to support low-income housing. The plan calls for 200 low-income housing units and presently the city can only accommodate 130. The city has three years to remedy the shortfall of low-income units which may be accomplished by zoning changes to permit building multi-family units.

At the conclusion of Thompson’s presentation, Mayor Wade Cowan opened the meeting for public comment.

Alysa Meyer, managing attorney with Legal Services of Northern California provided comment on behalf of the Sacramento Housing Alliance. Meyer said she appreciated that the city listened to their concerns and made revisions throughout the draft Housing Element. She specifically commended the city for making plan revisions to facilitate farmworker housing, addressing impediments to fair housing and creating sites to accommodate the low-income housing shortfall.

Meyer encouraged the city to be aggressive and forward-thinking and to rezone “sooner rather than later” within the three-year window to make up for the low-income shortfall.

Ken Britton spoke to two crises: 1. the housing crisis and 2. climate change. He said low-density suburban housing is the “enemy” to affordable housing and the climate.

“The large lots, the large houses are energy hogs, water hogs and they actually have no soul,” Britton said and added, “a more diverse housing supply with a mixture of smaller houses will solve a lot of problems …”

Britton thought the city should be more aggressive and mandate a percentage of houses at a certain density in the Housing Element, rather than working with developers to accomplish this. He encouraged the council not to accept the Housing Element but send it back to incorporate mandates and substantial requirements for very low, low and moderate-income housing. This way, he suggested, young people could afford homes and make Winters more vibrant.

Kate Laddish thanked the city for listening to her comments about livability, visitability and increasing the universal design requirement from 5 to 10 percent in new single-family units.

Gar House addressed the council to say he found great merit in what public commentors Britton and Laddish said and asked how the council viewed Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU).

Dave Dowswell, contract planner for the City of Winters, advised that he is in discussions with an outside consultant for “ready to go” plans for three different ADU designs. He said there is a state grant to pay for the ADU plans that will be available with a cost from free to a maximum of $1,000.

Councilmember Pierre Neu said he supported adopting the Housing Element, but wanted to confirm that if adopted at this meeting it would not preclude the council from making future changes.

Assistant City Attorney Joanna Gin responded, “No, it wouldn’t preclude you from taking other actions in order to impose mandates.”

Staff recommend the council approve Resolution 2021-51 to adopt the 2021-29 Housing Element Update. Council vote was taken and the resolution passed unanimously ahead of the Sept. 12 deadline.

A copy of the Housing Element is available on the city’s website under the “Housing Element Update” at bit.ly/3z9xlNG.

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