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Residents, experts and city discuss Turlock housing

POSTED June 27, 2009 5:18 p.m.
The Housing Element Update, a plan that will prepare the City of Turlock to meet housing needs through 2014, reached the next milestone in the planning process on June 18 as local residents gathered at City Hall for a workshop to hammer out particulars how the town can meet the needs of the elderly, poor, and homeless.
Some successful programs are slated to return, including first-time homebuyer loans, home rehabilitation loans, and mobile home rent subsidies, while several major new initiatives are also on the table to encourage development of reasonably-priced housing.
“It’s clear that the market in Turlock has not been producing housing affordable to low and very low income families,” said Sophie Martin, planner with San Francisco firm Dyett & Bhatia.
The most controversial of the proposed new initiatives is an Affordable Housing Impact Fee, which would require developments with no affordable units to pay a small fee to the city’s housing fund. That fund would then be used to reduce costs for affordable housing projects, possibly to reduce permitting costs.
“We feel it’s necessary, but we’re not quite there yet with what that program should be,” Martin said.
Representatives from the Building Industry of America lobbied that Turlock embrace incentives for affordable housing, rather than penalties, offering bonuses for density, mixed use developments, or the ability to earn fast tracking for projects that partner with a non-profit to produce affordable housing. Turlock Planning Manager Debbie Whitmore stated that the city already offers density bonuses, but that the program is not well advertised.
Other new programs on the table include an initiative to purchase and rehabilitate foreclosed homes, a land banking program that would acquire land for affordable housing, and targeted reinvestment programs that direct funds from multiple sources toward neighborhoods most in need. The city is also looking to pursue the incorporation of county islands, which would increase the land supply for housing.
The Housing Element also calls for numerous new programs to improve interaction with local service providers, such as a program to coordinate with low-wage employers to offer housing assistance information and job training information. A Request for Proposals process could be implemented as well, which would help organizations learn about and access city-housing funds.
The final new initiative being bandied about in the Housing Element Update would provide housing and services for the homeless, creating a by-right zoning area where emergency year-round shelters could be constructed. According to city staff, that zoning area would have to be implemented within the next year to comply with current state legislation.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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