Area affordable housing rated
Bravo, Truckee. Continue on, Grass Valley. But shape up, Nevada City.
These, in essence, were the comments of the Nevada County Civil Grand Jury, which recently examined the status of each community’s affordable housing.
The 19-member citizen panel evaluated Nevada County’s housing policies last year and decided to focus its attention this year on the two western Nevada County cities and Truckee. Civil grand juries issue periodic reports, which are crafted by volunteers who spend one year investigating public agencies and processes.
The grand jury analyzed the cities’ housing elements, which are required by the state to plan for, but not necessarily construct, affordable housing.
Truckee earned praise from the panel by topping or meeting its goals to build affordable housing for low-income families. Between 1994 and 2003, the town added 100 units for families that earn less than $29,500 and another 100 residences for families earning under $47,200.
But the grand jury sternly criticized Nevada City, which it claims built only one unit for families earning less than $29,500 between 1992 and 2003.
“The ‘not in my back yard’ school of thought appears to be the theme of the Nevada City Housing Element,” the panel wrote, calling the city’s plan “poorly organized and badly written.”
Nevada City City Manager Mark Miller said he was “surprised at the tone” of the grand jury’s report.
“Nevada City is committed to affordable housing,” he said.
To demonstrate the city’s commitment, Miller pointed to a 41-unit “cohousing” project off Broad Street that will be completed by next summer. The units, which were designed with the input of future residents, will sell for $225,000 to $400,000, developer Charles Durrett said, putting some of the residences below the median home price in Nevada City of about $335,000.
The cost of the units increased because residents insisted on energy-efficient materials, Durrett said. Cohousing is a cooperative effort between homeowners and builders that creates a community with private and public areas.
The grand jury report faulted the city for waiting 18 years, instead of the required five, to update its housing plan. It also blasted the city’s Advisory Review Committee for serving as “an added layer of bureaucracy” and urged that the three-member body be disbanded.
But Miller defended the committee, which he said allows for a “streamlining of government.” He said the committee provides an informal atmosphere for applicants to discuss their projects with city representatives, who then make a recommendation to the Planning Commission.
Miller said he will be meeting with Nevada City staffers and the City Council to develop a response to the grand jury’s criticisms.
The city of Grass Valley escaped the brunt of the jury’s ire, earning minor praise for the construction of a total of 128 affordable units in the Cedar Park and Glenbrook apartment complexes on Sutton Way.
But Community Development Director Joe Heckel said a few projects were missing from the grand jury’s accounting, including a 67-house development on Whiting Street and the Highlands project off Catalpa Lane. Both will provide single-family housing affordable for families earning less than $47,000, he said.
“I don’t know if they had all the up-to-date information,” Heckel said.
Grass Valley is attacking the shortage of affordable housing in several ways, Heckel said. It is developing new affordable housing policies, including title restrictions that will ensure designated units remain affordable indefinitely.
And the city has commissioned a study of its work-force housing, which will identify land suitable for affordable housing and create prototypes of floor plans and architectural styles the city supports.
A public workshop will be scheduled to view the completed work-force housing study soon, Heckel said.
A civil grand jury cannot enforce its decisions. Individuals and agencies named in the report are required to respond but do not have to implement the jury’s recommendations. The Board of Supervisors is required to respond to the report by Sept. 23.
The grand jury’s report is available at http://www.civilgrandjury.com on the Web. Click on “grand jury reports” on the left side of the page.
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