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Encinitas city council discusses affordable housing

ENCINITAS — Encinitas officials appeared to reach consensus on whether to raise the percentage of affordable housing in developments, which currently stands at 10 percent.

The City Council and Planning Commission, appearing at a joint meeting dedicated to discussing the city’s inclusionary housing policy, agreed that the city should raise the percentage to 15 percent, among other things.

The joint body heard from a panel of experts assembled by former City Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer, who moderated the two-hour workshop. The panel included Carlsbad Housing and Neighborhood Services Director Debbie Fountain, Shea Homes of San Diego division President Paul Barnes, Chelsea Investment Corp. founder and CEO Jim Schmid and Community Housing Works President and CEO Sue Reynolds.

The council and commission listened to the quartet of experts make suggestions on how the city could develop a successful inclusionary ordinance that would meet its goals of adding more affordable housing without being onerous on developers.

The consensus of the developers on the panel was that the city should be flexible with the ordinance, including on whether developers would be required to build the affordable unit on-site or off-site.

“You want it to be a highway, not a bramble filled path,” Reynolds said of the process.

Reynolds suggested that when the development isn’t large enough to be required to build a unit that the developer pay a so-called “in lieu fee” toward other “shovel ready” affordable projects.

Schmid, who was representing the Building Industry Association, said the city should look at ways to reduce costs in the development process to offset the rise in cost associated with paying fees or increased affordable housing mandates.

And both said the city’s affordable housing policy should be exclusively rental units, which was met with pushback from council members and planning commissioners. Commissioner Kevin Doyle said he did not want to preclude the development of tiny houses, which are owned as opposed to rented.

The City Council expressed a desire to study whether it would be feasible for the city to increase the inclusionary rate for land subject to the housing element’s zone increase.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear and others said if the city was essentially giving the property owner a windfall by upzoning the property, the city should be able to ask for more of a commitment to affordable housing.

City staff said they would take the suggestions from the council and the panel and return in a month or so with a revised ordinance.

The City Council was prepared to vote on an ordinance in February, but City Councilman Mark Muir objected to the proposal because the city had not held a workshop on the topic, something it promised to do in 2015.

The meeting satisfies that pledge.