Residents speak out on housing element

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The Winters Planning Commission held a public hearing on the city’s draft Housing Element at their Aug. 24 meeting.

Vice Chair Lisa Baker recused herself for an unspecified conflict as the agenda item was introduced and returned after the commission voted.

The Housing Element is a state mandated requirement under the city’s general plan to address current and future housing needs. It 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.

According to state law, the Housing Element must provide goals, policies, quantified objectives and scheduled programs to preserve, improve and develop housing. Beth Thompson, a principal with De Novo Consulting, presented a draft of the Sixth Cycle Housing Element Housing Plan for the 2021-29 eight-year cycle.

The report states, “The City is committed to working with developers to implement development agreements that incentivize projects that meet the needs and priorities of the community.”

One requirement of the Housing Element is to provide the opportunity for public participation and input. Over the past months, outreach was made to various city offices and community groups for input. Additionally, a virtual workshop was offered and a community survey was available between March 7 and April 27. The survey garnered 140 household responses.

Respondents identified priority housing needs as small single-family detached homes of less than 2,000 s/f, condos, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes with housing types identified as affordable housing, senior housing and market rate apartments.

The survey ranked top respondent priorities as:

1. More housing for all income levels.

2. Housing affordable to working families.

3. Ensuring that children who grow up in Winters can afford to live in Winters.

The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) identified for Winters during the 2021-29 cycle calls for a capacity of 200 extremely low, very low and low-income housing units. Of these projected units, there is a reported shortfall of 70.

Thompson presented slides of new and revised housing programs to address the shortfall. Once approved, the city will have three years to make up the 70-unit shortfall, which may include identifying new sites or rezoning areas to accommodate multiple family dwellings. Conversely, the RHNA projection for moderate and above moderate income housing units reflects an excess.

After Thompson’s presentation commissioners had an opportunity to ask questions. Commissioner Chris Rose noted that he didn’t see how bike paths or pedestrian walkways were addressed. Thompson advised this is not analyzed in the Housing Element, but in the city’s Transportation Plan. Commission Chair Greg Contreras wanted to clarify that the city had three years to revise the plan to make up for the 70 affordable unit shortfall.

Several Winters residents spoke during public comment.

Resident Sarah McCulloch expressed concerns over low and very low-income housing conditions. She noted the Housing Element community survey listed affordable housing as a top concern for respondents with the development of more multi-family units, but didn’t see where the Housing Element responded to that community need.

“It feels as if — being one of the public that took that survey, as if I wasn’t listened to,” McCullogh said. She noted she was concerned how Winters would grow the low-income housing stock over the next eight years based on the plan.

Alysa Meyer, managing attorney with Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC), thanked city staff and consultants for making substantial revisions to the draft Housing Element, but voiced three continuing concerns: 1. The inability of the city to determine adequate sites for low-income households, 2. Seventy units will require rezoning over the next three years to meet state requirements, and 3. How the city would create a plan for a Fair Housing Program.

Resident Kate Laddish spoke of mobility, aging in place, affordable housing, zoning and how the city can diversify housing stock, “preferably before the next project goes through so that we can make sure that we get something that works for us.“

Ken Britton, who served as Vice Chair on the Climate Action Committee pointed to two areas of crises and urgency not explicitly covered in the Housing Element. First, he stressed proactively encouraging the development of higher density housing with fourplexes being a start, but also higher density housing near convenient public transportation.

Second, Britton said that low density housing is problematic for carbon footprint, energy, land use and not the correct way for the next century to develop. He encouraged stronger proactive language in the Element to address these issues.

Another speaker, Jennifer Rindahl, said she agreed with prior speakers but felt the Element was missing “urgency.” She wants new housing developments to be built under the right conditions so that “we’re not exacerbating the problem.” Rindahl concluded by saying she didn’t want Winters to become a bedroom community to San Francisco and wants people who work in our community to be able to live here.

The Housing Element was unanimously adopted and now goes to the City Council to hear at their Sept. 7 meeting where it will be open for further public comment. Written comments can be made to the City Council prior to the meeting that will be read during the meeting.

Attendees can also speak to the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting and state their views and concerns.

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