The Inyo County Planning Department held a public workshop for the 2021 General Plan Housing Element update on Wednesday to inform the public about the process of updating the Housing element and gather feedback about housing in Inyo County.
The update is mandated by the state’s housing and community development department and must occur once every eight years.
Each update includes a Regional Housing Needs Assesment (RHNA) that uses the median area income to determine the number of housing units needed in the county.
Inyo County Planning Director Cathreen Richards, who led the workshop, explained that the 2021 RHNA number falls between the two previous RHNA numbers in 2014 and 2009. In 2009, the number spiked due to the national recession and housing crisis. Richards noted that while the 2021 number (205)is larger than what it had been in 2014, it was still below the peak in 2009.
The breakdown by income is as follows:
Extremely and very low income housing units: 46
Low-income units: 40
Moderate income units: 39
“Above moderate” income units: 80
The workshop was pretty simple as far as public meetings go. Richards posed a series of questions related to housing to the attendees to get a sense of what the county will need to work on in the next eight years.
The difficulty that Richards faced in this approach was that the responses came from a limited group.
So that when she asked if anyone at the meeting had experienced housing discrimination within the county or they knew anyone who had experienced housing discrimination, Richards got crickets in response.
The only response to the question came from Mammoth Lakes Housing’s Patricia Robertson, who said she was unaware of any housing discrimination in Inyo County.
Robertson also offered an answer to the subsequent question, what are the barriers to reporting discrimination, saying “Regionally, we have a lack of legal aid available to low-income individuals … Reporting discrimination is kind of elusive,” she continued, adding that there isn’t a clear-cut reporting mechanism.
The conversation picked up after Richards asked, “What kind of barriers might there be to finding appropriate housing?”
Tonya Miller, with Premier Property Management, wrote “Income, credit, pets” in the chat, adding that income and credit problems are a near-daily occurence for her when working with clients.
Robertson said that housing supply was a major limiting factor for those seeking housing.
“Prices are out of the the range of many of our workforce households,” Robertson said.
She added that there are some options available (payment assistance programs, multi-family developments, grant programs, etc.) that can
help to mitigate the cost of development.
Scott Hooker, Director of Facilities for Northern Inyo Healthcare District (NIHD), reiterated Roberts’ assessment about housing supply issues.
Hooker said that NIHD has a rotating cast of contract workers and travel nurses that come to the area and need an affordable place to stay while they’re in town.
“Surprisingly, cost is also a barrier [for these workers]” Hooker said, “They have houses that they’re coming from, mortgage payments to make.”
He also said that the contract times can vary from a matter of days to a year in length. The average is about three months.
One option that NIHD had previously explored was modular housing on tribal land that would become the tribe’s property after a time. Despite having the financial resources to set up such an endevaour, the project never materialized due to a lack of available land.
Jennifer Castenada, Realtor/Broker with Blue Sky Real Estate in Lone Pine, recalled that there had been previous conversations at a county level about acquiring land from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and/or a county allowance on secondary accessory dwelling units (ADUs) for properties.
“The [LADWP] divestment conversation never ends,” Richards said, “IMACA finally purchased property in Bishop and it took over ten years working with DWP to get that parcel … without the land purchased or leased it makes it really difficult to move forward.”
The issues with the ADUs, Castenada pointed out, is that people with vacation rentals would add them onto a home and presumably rent that space out for visitors as well.
So what does the county need for housing? What would those units look like?
The assembled group agreed that 1-2 bedroom units have been in the most demand for people looking to move into the area.
Robertson recommended affordable small infill projects for single families or individuals. She said that grant funding will require a certain amount of housing density and small projects are more tuned into the Inyo County community.
However, small developments, Roberston said, can be more difficult to finance than a 75-100 unit project.
Paula Riesen suggested senior housing as a need, a sentiment Richards agreed with based on the relatively significant 65+ population in the county.
Another issue that the attendees discussed was that the limited housing inventory was complicated by the word-of-mouth market.
Castenada related a recent experience in which she was notified that someone was moving out of a property and then received two calls from different people interested in renting the property. All before a listing was posted online.
The City of Bishop opted to hold its respective Housing Element update meeting on the evening of March 24, choosing to use a webinar-style workshop and written survey to get feedback.
The main issue in Bishop: land availability.
Sandra Bauer, a consultant with Bauer Planning and Environmental Services, said that the prior housing element update had identified only 2.5 acres of land within city limits that A) were not owned by anothe entity and B) could be developed.
“Is there anything the city can do to discourage rich flatlanders from buying our houses and leaving the city?” one attendee asked in the chat.
Elaine Kabala, City of Bishop Planner, said that the city is looking into potentially incentivizing local home ownership.
A number of attendees asked about LADWP divesting property. Kabala responded that although there have been conversations and the Housing Element is state mandated, “land divestitures from the city of Los Angeles are things that are very difficult.” She stressed LADWP is a partner in the process.
After a petition in the chat, Bauer and Kabala opted to extend the survey through early next week; it is available on the City’s planning department website.