Is Mammoth meeting its state housing requirements?
The state of California is suing the city of Huntington Beach on the premise that Huntington Beach failed to meet housing requirements under State Bill 35 (SB 35). Now, Huntington Beach is counter-suing the state, claiming that SB 35 is unconstitutional on the premise the state is not allowed to meddle in municipal affairs. SB 35 expedites the approval process for projects that meet affordable housing needs.
According to Huntington Beach’s lawyer, there are 50 other cities in the state that have not met requirements under SB 35. Is Mammoth Lakes one of those cities?
Councilman John Wentworth told The Sheet that he isn’t aware of whether the state is inquiring into the town’s housing situation. Executive Director of Mammoth Lakes Housing Patricia Robertson believes that the town complies with SB 35. Town of Mammoth Lakes Community and Economic Development Director Sandra Moberly said that Mammoth is in compliance with SB 35. She believes that the reason the state is suing Huntington Beach is specific to Huntington Beach, and is not necessarily shared by Mammoth. (When The Sheet went to press, the causes of action for the Huntington Beach case were not public.)
SB 35 was passed in 2017. It requires municipalities to “streamline” affordable housing projects. The state determines a city’s affordable housing needs through a Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), which happens every 5-8 years. Those needs become affordable housing requirements. RHNA’s aren’t new, but the requirement to streamline is.
By “streamline,” the state effectively means, “Don’t just talk about it, do it.”
SB 35 mandates that municipalities streamline housing projects with a certain percentage of affordable housing. For Mammoth, any project with 50% affordable housing must be streamlined.
The SB 35 Statewide Determination Summary says, “Once the need is determined, cities and counties must show they have zoned enough land for housing to accommodate families and individuals at all income levels. These plans known as housing elements, must be submitted to HCD [California’s Department of Housing and Community Development] for approval, and then incorporated into the city’s or county’s general plan.
SB 35 looks beyond planning to see if cities/counties actually have permitted housing in line with their need. When they don’t, they are subject to state intervention.”
The town’s most recent RHNA happened in August of last year. It is being finalized and will be released this spring. The new RHNA will cover Mammoth’s housing needs from 2019 to 2027.
Ready to wade through the process of how the RHNA is incorporated into the town’s General Plan? Sing: “I’m just an RHNA. Yes, I’m only an RHNA. And, I’m sitting here in the Town of Mammoth Lakes…”
The town receives the RHNA. Then it incorporates its housing element accordingly. Robertson said that an administrative draft of the updated housing element exists and will be released in April for public comment. The public comment period lasts 30 days. Around July and August of this year, the housing element undergoes public hearings at Mammoth’s Planning and Economic Development Commission then at Town Council. If approved by those bodies, the housing element becomes part of Mammoth’s General Plan.
The previous RHNA occurred in 2014 and set requirements from 2014 through 2019. The state has defined categories of housing based on household income. The Extremely Low category consists of households earning below 30% of Area Median Income (AMI). Very Low Category consists of households at 31 to 50% of AMI. Low is 51-80% of AMI. Moderate is 81-120% AMI. Above Moderate, or Middle-Income, is 121-150% of AMI. Upper-Income 151-200% AMI.
According the town’s 2016 Annual Update—halfway through the current RHNA period—the town hadn’t followed through with its housing element requirements. From 2014 through 2016, the town built 57 units in the Above Moderate AMI category, exceeding the housing element’s goal for that category by 26 units. As of the beginning of 2019, the town has not built a unit in the categories below Above Moderate. According to the RHNA it was supposed to build 8 units for Extremely Low, 9 for Very Low, 12 for Low, and 14 for Moderate. 55 units short.
“In six years, we haven’t done anything,” Mammoth Lakes Town Councilman Kirk Stapp said, referring to the construction of affordable housing.
The town might comply with state requirements on paper, but at some point it needs to build affordable housing if it is going to stay that way.
The town has not released the annual update for 2017. Moberly said it’s being finalized. The 2018 Annual Update will likely be finalized by the end of 2019.
The town’s 2017 Community Indicators Report—another annual summary of the town’s actions—says, “Additional efforts will need to be focused on the production of housing, particularly for extremely-low, very-low, low and moderate income residents, in order to achieve the town’s fair share of the regional housing needs.”
The Shady Rest Master Plan, published and approved by council in 1991, capped the number of housing units that could be built on the property at 172. 120 units were planned for very low and low incomes and 52 were planned for moderate incomes. The state density bonus would allow double the units on this parcel to 344.
Mammoth Lakes Housing published a plan for The Parcel in 2016. That plan included 192 units of affordable housing (114 multi-family apartments and 78 single family townhomes).
The Request for Qualifications (RFQ) that the town released in December states, “Approximately 595 housing units would be needed through 2022 to catch-up with existing housing needs and to keep up with projected housing needs driven by job growth.”
The maximum development allowed by the state on The Parcel (344 according to The Shady Rest Parcel master plan) falls 251 units short of the community’s housing need. The Community Housing Action Plan (CHAP) plans to build 200-300 units in the next five years to make up the difference, if The Parcel is developed to its maximum unit potential.
In 2015, the town cut its housing mitigation policy at the knees. It removed the inclusionary housing requirement for new development, gave developers the choice for housing mitigation, and reduced housing mitigation fees.
The current plan is very developer friendly.
If the state Department of Housing and Community Development felt like Mammoth wasn’t complying with SB 35, it’s first act wouldn’t be a lawsuit. It’d review the situation in Mammoth and work with local government to correct the situation. Most of the inquiries have to do with a municipalities failure to zone in accordance with an RHNA. If the municipality corrects the action, HCD moves on. If it doesn’t, then the state might hunt them down.