The Coast News Group
The Vista City Council voted on Tuesday to move forward with reinstating its inclusionary housing policy requiring a certain percentage of new residential developments to be designated affordable.
The Vista City Council voted on Tuesday to move forward with reinstating its inclusionary housing policy requiring a certain percentage of new residential developments to be designated affordable. File photo
Cities News Vista Vista Featured

Vista City Council votes to reinstate inclusionary housing policy

VISTA — In the upcoming months, the Vista City Council will consider staff recommendations related to a new inclusionary housing rule to help reach state goals.

At a special workshop on Tuesday, the council voted 3-2 to move forward with reinstating an inclusionary housing policy that would establish a minimum requirement of affordable units for residential developments greater than 20 units.

Mayor Judy Ritter voted against the motion.

Councilmember Joe Green made the motion directing staff to explore different baseline percentages, including the possibility of an 8% overlay citywide, but a 20% overlay in transportation zones, which would, in turn, provide developers with a 20% density bonus, among other possible requirements and guidelines.

While the actual policy won’t be before the council for at least a few months, the topic is already receiving attention from members of the faith-based civic leadership group, San Diego Organizing Project.

“I probably would not be able to buy a home in Vista,” said Luz Godina, a Vista resident and representative of the San Diego Organizing Project. “I probably wouldn’t even be able to afford rent.”

Godina’s parents bought their first home in Vista in the 1970s, as did she when she was able. She worries that others in the community are being priced into homes and encouraged the council to consider moving forward with a rule that allows residents to “live with dignity.”

This wouldn’t be the first time Vista had such a rule in place.

The city’s inclusionary housing rule, first established in 1985, required 6% of units developed to be dedicated to low-income residents.

Then in 2006, the council adopted an in-lieu fee which gave developers the option to pay a fine instead of integrating lower-income units. In 2015, after some legal back-and-forth on the state level, the city of Vista repealed its inclusionary housing policy.

Now, per the 2021-29 Housing Element, the city must provide 2,561 new housing units to keep up with population growth. About 1,200 of those units must be geared toward very low to moderate-income families.

Since 2021, 540 units have been added to the housing market, according to the city’s community development director John Conley.

“I don’t think any of those were affordable or at least a small number,” Conley said. “Most of the current [Regional Housing Need Allocation] cycle we’re in has been market rate.”

The Regional Housing Need Allocation, or RHNA, is a process that designates areas for the potential development of affordable housing — it does not involve the production of the units, but rather sets a minimum.

Councilmembers Corinna Contreras, Katie Melendez and Green agreed that a possible inclusionary housing policy could be one way for the city to reach its goal.

“There’s just not enough affordable housing in Vista,” said resident Tony Martinez. “We all deserve a safe place to live that is truly affordable for working families like mine.”

In 2008, Martinez came close to losing his house once. He was enrolled in school, working part-time and putting in hours filling out applications for housing assistance. Then with the support of his congregation, he was able to remain in his family home.

Several members of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, who are also representatives of the San Diego Organizing Project, including Godina, spoke in favor of the possibility of the council pursuing an inclusionary housing policy.

Contreras said the city should step in to help alleviate the “irrational” imbalance between average income and the price of housing.

However, not everyone on the council is convinced the inclusionary housing policy achieve the goal to increase affordable housing options.

To Deputy Mayor John Franklin, the math doesn’t add up. Only 4.3% of those who are eligible would benefit, according to Franklin’s numbers.

“The waiting list is thousands,” Franklin said, noting that half of the city’s 100,686 residents would qualify for affordable housing based on income levels. “What is the realistic likelihood that they’re going to access [these units].”

Franklin said that regardless of the policy imposition, builders will always tack on a profit margin.

“But that’s not the problem,” he said. “Who pays for the (inclusionary housing) mandate?”

Franklin fears that residents in multi-family units will end up footing the bill. He figures, if inclusionary housing is adopted, the lowest income earners in the city will be faced with a lottery system that serves a small number of residents.

“How do you look at the people that earn the least in the community and say, ‘We’re going to lay a tax on the housing that you’re trying to afford,” Franklin said. “We’re going to make it more expensive for you to afford, but there’s going to be this great benefit that one in 20 of you are going to mathematically qualify for.”

Green’s math is a bit different, adding that the density bonus can be used as leverage to entice developers to build units that would fall under the inclusionary housing rule.

A density bonus is currently an incentive to developers to build affordable housing and in return receive building incentives from the city.

“If you come into my city, then we’re going to have you do the density bonus to provide inclusionary housing,” Green said. “I am not going to take eight units out of [a hypothetical] 40 units the way it’s zoned, I am willing to change the zoning.”

Contreras also pointed out that an inclusionary housing policy does not mean development isn’t profitable.

The council will consider a policy after the staff investigates and develops a formal proposal.

Leave a Comment