By Nancy Amdur
As Redwood City works to boost the amount of affordable housing in its community, the City Council on Monday reviewed seven development proposals for city-owned land located at 707 and 777 Bradford St. The city also approved moving forward with an affordable housing impact fee among other initiatives to help solve what many council members called a “housing crisis” in the city.[contextly_sidebar id=”Pm00bSnny65BWTwTb3OVTEVBw8JJG1y3″]Redwood City released a request for proposals to nonprofit developers for its one-acre Bradford Street site in June with a goal of building an affordable housing project. A publicly accessible park along the adjacent Redwood Creek was required. Further, Redwood City encouraged developers to include ground-floor child care and nonprofit offices.
Proposals for the downtown site were submitted by The Pacific Cos., MidPen Housing, Palo Alto Housing, Mercy Housing, Satellite Affordable Housing and BRIDGE Housing Corp. Additionally, ROEM and Eden Housing entered a joint proposal. All of the proposals outlined projects with 100 percent affordable housing, and each served residents ranging in the very low- to extremely low-income categories.
These are “not moderate income units,” said Aaron Aknin, assistant city manager and community development director. These are for residents “who are really struggling in the current housing environment.”
Senior, large family, intergenerational and veterans housing were proposed. Each option included a park and/or public open space beside the creek, along with space for child care and on-site amenities. Projects ranged from 56 to 137 units and heights varied from three to eight stories. Development completion dates were projected between 2017 and 2019. None of the proposals requires an additional city subsidy.
“I like everything I saw,” said Mayor Jeffrey Gee. “There is a huge community need as well as a huge regional need.”
City staff will evaluate the projects and narrow them down to two or three finalists whose proposals will be brought back to City Council for consideration during the first quarter next year, Aknin said.
City Council also approved implementing an impact fee to help fund affordable housing, which could include buying land for new projects or purchasing and rehabilitating existing apartments to be reserved for affordable housing.
The fee would be $20-$25 per square foot for residential development, $20 per square foot for office projects and $5 per square foot for hotel, retail, restaurants and services.
Fees would be imposed on projects with 5,000 square feet of new commercial space and residential projects with five or more new units. Nonprofits, schools and places of worship would be exempt.
“[The fee] is an important mechanism to building up a fund,” said Councilmember Ian Bain.
Councilmember Barbara Pierce also said the council should consider an incentive for developers who include affordable units within their projects as those units could be added to the housing pool more quickly.
Some area builders at the meeting spoke against the impact fee, including Jim Pollard of Palo Alto-based homebuilder Classic Communities, whose company has an 18-unit housing project underway in Redwood City. “Solving the housing crisis by levying fees on new housing is not good policy and is based on flawed logic,” he said.
Though some developers might choose not to build in Redwood City because of the fee, Vice Mayor Rosanne Foust said the housing crisis makes the fee necessary. “It’s a new day,” she said. “When it comes to the situation we’re in right now, the rules are different.”
City Council requested a second reading of the resolution with modifications, including an incentive for developers that pay an area standard wage.
Additionally, the City Council approved negotiating with home-sharing company Airbnb to provide transit occupancy taxes to the city to be allocated for affordable housing. Further, the city’s Downtown Precise Plan will be amended to require that 15 percent of the allowed housing in the neighborhood is affordable. This will ensure up to 375 affordable housing units downtown under the current 2,500-unit housing cap.
Less than 5 percent of total housing construction in Redwood City over the last three to four years has served moderate or lower income categories, said Diana O’Dell, a principal planner with the city. This is due in part to the dissolution of state redevelopment agencies, which provided funding for affordable housing, along with cuts in federal funding. Meanwhile, demand for housing outstrips the supply in Redwood City, helping to increase rents and making it difficult for some residents to remain in the community, O’Dell said.
“It’s going to take a combination of a lot things to make a difference,” Gee said. Impact fees and other initiatives are “an important part of what we are doing to create [housing] diversity in our community.”