ESCONDIDO — The recent approval of 510 residential dwelling units in the Palomar Heights project caused some controversy among Escondido council members, interest groups and residents due to the project’s glaring lack of affordable housing, a reminder that the city is one of two in the county that does not have an inclusionary housing requirement.
In San Diego County, Escondido and Vista are the only two cities that do not include a requirement for inclusionary housing, meaning that developers are not required to provide affordable housing units.
In comparison, the threshold for inclusionary housing in Encinitas is seven units (for sale or rental), with a requirement to provide 15% low income and 10% very low income. Carlsbad also has a threshold of seven units with 15% affordable units required. Oceanside requires 10% affordable housing with a threshold of three units.
The Escondido City Council received a few public comments regarding the city’s lack of affordable housing at the last council meeting in early February, with council members disagreeing on whether to revisit the policy.
Councilman Mike Morasco said of the topic, “It’s just not something that we want to be mandating on our developments in the City of Escondido at this time.”
“The city is currently conducting a sector feasibility study to determine fiscal implications of requiring affordable housing as part of development projects. If a developer chooses to build affordable units, they can use State Density Bonus law to build additional units,” said Karen Youel, Escondido’s housing and neighborhood services manager.
The number of housing units required to be produced in the City of Escondido, both affordable and market-rate, are established by the Regional Housing Needs Assessment prepared by SANDAG.
For the upcoming housing cycle, the city has been allocated over 9,600 units, with specific goals for very low, low, moderate, and above-moderate income levels.
The city has two primary sources of funding with which to assist affordable housing developers to build new affordable housing, convert existing housing to affordable units, or preserve existing affordable homes.
This is done using federal HOME funds — the largest federal block grant to state and municipal governments to help create affordable housing for low-income households — and Successor Housing Agency funds, which are recycled redevelopment funds.
Youel told The Coast News that Escondido is currently working with developers on two projects.
The city has conditionally committed federal HOME funds to San Diego Habitat for Humanity to build 10 homes for homeownership by low-income households (earning up to 80% of the area median income).
The second project will use Successor Housing Agency funds in a partnership between the National Community Renaissance of California and San Diego Community Housing Corporation to build 50 affordable apartments for extremely low (30% of the area median income) and low (60% of the area median income) senior households. Half of these units will be reserved for homeless seniors.
Mike Strong, Escondido’s director of community development, said at the city’s last council meeting that the discussion about inclusionary housing policies will be revisited sometime in the near future.