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By Lillian Boyd

Work is now underway in identifying sites for affordable housing in Dana Point and neighboring cities.

In order to develop and update the City of Dana Point’s “Housing Element” update for its city plan, staff and contractors are focusing on public outreach, as well as exploring housing sites, to meet the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). It’s all in an effort to update programs to meet current housing laws.

“This is an eight-year cycle. Unlike the General Plan, where you can update it however long you want, every eight years, jurisdictions have to update them. It’s the only element that has to be certified by the state,” said Colin Drukker, a principal with PlaceWorks.

In May 2020, Dana Point City Council approved an agreement with PlaceWorks to assist in amending the Housing Element for the 2021-29 planning period. The deadline set for council to adopt the Housing Element is Oct. 15, 2021—it must be adopted within 120 days of this deadline in order to avoid the state mandate of updating the Housing Element every four years.

“Everyone knows Dana Point is an extremely desirable place to live,” Drukker said. “Housing prices are going up faster than wages, and Dana Point’s is going up faster than other places in the region. This is also true for rental, where almost 60% of renters in Dana Point spend more than 30% of their income on rent.”

The average one-bedroom unit costs $2,000 in Dana Point.

“For some, it’s because they really want to live here,” said Drukker. “For others, it’s because they’re struggling.”

Drukker addressed the city’s existing housing needs in his presentation to city council. In 2019, the Point in Time count identified 35 homeless individuals. In 2020, city homeless outreach staff worked with roughly 20 clients and housed 48 individuals.

RHNA allocation is a number of units in four income categories as determined by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).  In late 2019, SCAG was assigned with identifying land for 1.34 million additional housing units across the four income categories. The state assigns the total number of units for the region, and SCAG adopts a methodology to determine the number for each city. Orange County was to take on more than 180,000 of those homes. For Dana Point, SCAG allocated 530 units for the four income categories: 147 units for very-low-income households (0-50% median); 84 low-income households (51-80% median); 101 moderate-income households (81-120%); and 198 above-moderate-income households (121% and above median).

“(530) is a very small number compared to most jurisdictions,” Drukker said. “In most jurisdictions, people are throwing up their hands and thinking about lawsuits. For Dana Point, I think it’s very fortunate the way the metrics worked out.”

On October 26, 50 jurisdictions within the SCAG region, 20 of which are in Orange County, filed appeals of their allocations. The cities of Garden Grove, Irvine, Newport Beach and Yorba Linda filed appeals contesting the allocation for the City of Santa Ana. RHNA Appeal Hearings have concluded, and only two jurisdictions were successful: Pico Rivera and County of Riverside. Because these cities are outside the county, the city’s RHNA did not change.

“Staff believes the City’s RHNA is attainable based on development potential in Town Center, as well as anticipated rezoning in Doheny Village and construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs),” stated the staff report. “If the sites are approved and accepted by HCD, there will be no need to rezone additional properties.”

Very low income is defined as less than $52,000 of annual income and low income is defined as $52,000-$82,000. Affordable housing is defined as 30% or less of monthly income (a maximum rent of $1,300 or less for very low income and $2,050 for low income).

For multiple earners in a household, the threshold increases, with very low income being less than $64,000 a year and low income being less than $102,000 a year.

“It’s hard to think of someone who is making $100,000 a year as low-income, but given the cost of living in Southern California, that’s kind of the case,” Drukker said.

Drukker’s presentation identified those who need affordable housing to include teachers, college graduates, retirees, hospital nurses and resort workers.

“There a lot of people who are low-income earners who serve as a vital role in the economy,” Drukker added.

The Kennedy Commission is a community-based nonprofit that works with residents and community organizations to increase the production of homes affordable to lower-income households in Orange County.

In a letter submitted to city council, the Kennedy Commission urges the city to evaluate its policies.

“The City must evaluate its current policies and programs to ensure they facilitate the development of homes affordable to low-income households in the city which they have failed to do thus far,” the letter states. “…Thus far, the City has followed a market-rate approach toward affordable housing and has opted not to implement concrete policies that would facilitate its production. It is clear from the City’s inability to meet its current lower-income housing need and the drastic housing over-production at the above-moderate-income level that a market-rate approach does not produce affordable housing.”

The Kennedy Commission called for the city to develop and implement policies and programs that “truly produce affordable housing” such as mixed-income ordinances and inclusionary policies. The letter asked that the city incentivize the development of affordable housing, as well as prioritize the development of affordable housing on city-owned land.

In order to accommodate future needs for affordable housing, PlaceWorks recommended reviewing existing and proposed projects, vacant or underutilized land and accessory dwelling units (ADUs). ADUs are defined as having a second small dwelling right on the same grounds (or attached to) a regular single-family house, such as an apartment over the garage, a tiny house or “granny flat” in the backyard. ADUs have grown increasingly popular for homeowners looking to generate additional income.

Drukker also highlighted the Town Center Ralphs, Doheny Village, Victoria Boulevard and a surplus site owned by South Coast Water District as potential opportunity sites.

As far as public outreach, PlaceWorks and city staff have previously conducted a study session with the Dana Point Planning Commission, conducted an online survey, as well as briefings with the city’s youth board. A virtual public workshop is scheduled for May 20. A review of the draft Housing Element and submittal to HCD will be held with the Planning Commission on May 24 and with city council on June 15.

The total cost for the General Plan Housing Element and Safety Element Updates with associated environmental review is $246,000. The City was awarded $150,000 to offset the costs of the Housing Element Update from the Local Early Action Planning (LEAP) grant. The remaining $51,000 was committed from the General Plan Update Reserve Fund.

In San Clemente, the city is expected to present the draft Housing Element update to the Planning Commission for further consideration on May 5 and will present it to the city council on May 18. The environmental impact report for the update is likely to be completed over the summer. San Clemente is tasked with finding about 980 new housing units.

To address misconceptions of low-income housing, San Clemente Commissioner Zhen Wu explained in an April meeting that affordable housing is meant to support local workers whose annual income wouldn’t otherwise permit them to afford renting or buying in affluent areas such as Dana Point and San Clemente.

“So, who are these people? They’re our service providers, they’re our teachers,” Wu said. “The city is obligated by state law to provide feasible housing opportunities to them. I think that’s important for people to understand that.”

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