What is the Process For Awarding Tax Dollars to Build Affordable Housing in Elk Grove?

At Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, several members of the public as well as a developer spoke in unison regarding the process of awa...

At Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, several members of the public as well as a developer spoke in unison regarding the process of awarding tax dollars to build affordable housing in Elk Grove. It is uncommon that citizen watchdogs and developers find themselves on the same side of an issue, but last night was one of those strange exceptions.

Sudden change in direction

During public comment several citizens spoke regarding the recent meeting of the Elk Grove Affordable Housing Loan Committee. This meeting was held on Friday, Sept 17 and was attended by the committee, city staff, and representatives from the development community who had submitted projects hoping their project would be recommended to receive these tax dollars and about half a dozen citizens.

During council public comment period, some of these same citizens expressed concern regarding the process by which city staff dictated the course and outcome of the Affordable Housing hearing without much regard to protocol, guidelines or standard practice.

While two projects were presented for the committee to review, a third developer attended the meeting and indicated he was coming to the table late and had no drawings or financial documentation prepared but wanted to be considered for the loan program.

As the other two developers were given time to present their individual projects, reveal their financial worthiness and present their case for recommendation for approval to the Planning Commission, it was soon disclosed by staff that the loan amount to be ultimately awarded to either project was being reduced down from approximately $14 million to approximately $7 million.

None of the developers had been given advance notice of this change and it appeared the Affordable Housing Loan Committee also did not know of this abrupt change. There was little discussion by staff as to why the perimeters of the program were being changed even when questioned by the loan committee.

With these new rules in place, it became apparent that neither developer was prepared to move forward with the reduced funding constraints. While one developer implored the staff to stick to the city’s prescribed protocol for awarding the loan money; one developer suggested a 30-day delay in the process so they could re-work and revise their project.

The result was a meeting that became polarizing and disjointed. In the end, the staff recommended to the loan committee that they allow the continuance. All three members of the loan committee agreed.

Interesting enough, the citizens who attended the loan committee hearing had done so to raise concerns regarding the perceived drawbacks of one of the projects, Waterman Square 2. However, once each project was presented to the committee, the citizens unanimously decided that the other project (Laguna Ridge Apartments) meet all of the guidelines and recommendations to receive the loan recommendation.

Laguna Ridge is located in a mixed use area, providing the tenants with transportation options, retail and commercial services directly across the street; medical services, parks and schools within 1,000 feet of the project. Waterman Square 2 conversely, is located in a semi-rural area of Elk Grove with no services, no bus lines, no parks or school within 1.5 to 2 mile radius.

As the staff continued to push for a continuance, the Laguna Ridge developers indicated they were shovel ready and saw no need to delay or manipulate the rules to allow non-competitive projects time to “catch up.”

During Wednesday night’s public comment, some of these same citizens told the council how unfortunate it was that a project that was properly planned and properly located with an abundance of services available was being held hostage while staff changed and manipulated the rules without notice and with little explanation.

During such economic hard times, why would staff again appear to be unfriendly to business? It was mentioned how Elk Grove continues to be difficult to work with when bring projects forward.

Even when developers believe they have followed the rules; rules are changed at last minute. When the process is clear, concise and followed, the outcome becomes legitimate.

When the process is allowed to be manipulated, suspicions and credibility becomes the suspect.

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Sarah Johnson said...

You did a good job describing the circumstances of the Friday meeting. One thing to add, however, is that the shovel ready project, which was the first in the door, also provides more units/more bang for the buck. It meets ALL the criteria, WS2 meets none of the criteria and also would result in extremely poor planning for the area it is in.

Malleus Codex said...

I think that it is important that we share the wealth of opportunity to serve the less fortunate by not concentrating this type of housing in one area. Laguna Ridge should be chosen as the next site since there ARE services near.

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