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Nevada City grapples with its affordable housing requirement

The Nevada City Council approved a six-unit housing development on Searls Avenue called “The Bungalows” Wednesday, despite uncertainty over whether or not the project would satisfy the requirements of a city ordinance which calls for 30 percent of all homes located in new subdivisions to be affordable to moderate-and-below-moderate-income households.

The project developer, Steve Bowden, proposed an “affordable by design” plan in lieu of agreeing to create deed restrictions for two of the units — 30 percent — to ensure affordability.

Bowden’s “affordable by design” plan includes utilizing the maximum allowed density of the lot, constructing small homes, choosing a strategic location that allows for walkability to local shops and schools, using “quality construction material and modern building techniques,” which Bowden said would represent significant savings in the cost-of-living due to reduced maintenance and energy use, and “bungalow-style” architecture that Bowden said was chosen for easy construction and economical living.



But city staff and council members were unable to determine whether that plan meets the specific criteria detailed in the housing ordinance.

The ordinance requires 30 percent of all homes located in new subdivisions to be 1,500 square feet or smaller and affordable to moderate-and-below-moderate-income households, which is to be accomplished through deed restrictions, or through an affordable housing plan “including, but not limited to, size restrictions, rental units, second units, etc.”




All six units proposed by “The Bungalows” project will have a living area of 1,300 square feet. The development meets the size limitation requirement, which only requires that two of the units be under 1,500 square feet.

affordable rates

According to a staff report, affordable housing rates are based on income data determined by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. For Nevada County, the report states, the current moderate-income household affordable rental rate is $2,205 for a family of four, $1,985 for a family of three, and $1,763 for a family of two.

For low-income households, the report states, the affordable rental rate is $1,533 for a family of four, $1,380 for a family of three, and $1,226 for a family of two.

A family of four with a moderate income, the report states, could be expected to purchase a residence at a price of $410,700, and a family of two with a moderate income could be expected to purchase at $385,500.

Bowden proposed offering some of the units for purchase and maintaining the other units as rentals.

Each of the six units proposed by “The Bungalows” development plan will have two bedrooms. The staff report assumes, based on Nevada City housing statistics, a minimum of one of the units would accommodate a three-or-four-person household and a minimum of two units would accommodate a two-person household.

“If the applicant’s market research holds true and fair market rental rates are between $1,300 and $1,500 per unit, then all six units could conservatively be expected to accommodate moderate-income levels and one unit could potentially accommodate a low-income family of four,” the report states.

But the council could not determine how those expectations would be guaranteed.

‘about as affordable as you can get’

Another development recently approved by the council, a 71-unit subdivision called “The Grove,” proposed by Nevada City Tech Center, also used an “affordability by design” concept to address the city’s requirements.

Cody Curtis, a member of Tenants of Nevada County, said at the tenants group’s June 15 meeting that he’s concerned the concept is setting a precedent for new developments in Nevada City, and is not adequately addressing the widening gap between income and the cost of housing.

“You don’t want the perfect to get in the way of the good,” said Bowden at Wednesday’s council meeting, who argued that his plan is the most affordable housing development on the horizon for Nevada City.

City Planner Amy Wolfson said the affordability requirements detailed in the city’s housing ordinance are unrealistic for a small project like The Bungalows.

“To meet the affordability standards, you really need a larger development,” she said.

Ultimately, the council voted to approve the project on a 3-1 vote. Council Member David Parker was opposed and Mayor Evans Phelps was absent.

“Based on the figures you’ve given us in today’s situation, that’s about as affordable as you can get in this city, so I support it,” said Council Member Valerie Moberg.

Parker suggested the city take another look at its affordability requirement.

“We have an ordinance that doesn’t work for Nevada City,” he said.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email mpera@theunion.com or call 530-477-4231.


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