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Plan reveals need for affordable housing in Turlock
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There are more than 600 families on the waiting list for a family unit at the Avena Bella affordable housing community, an indication that finding reliable housing is a problem faced by many in Turlock.

As the City of Turlock is in the process of updating their Housing Element, a mandated part of each city’s General Plan, housing statistics for all economic levels have been gathered in turn reflecting the local housing climate. The City of Turlock has contracted with the of San-Francisco based planning firm Dyett & Bhatia to update the Housing Element and firm representative Sophie Martin presented some statistics to the Turlock Planning Commission Thursday evening which reiterated what she called a substantial need for affordable housing in Turlock.  

“Over 50 percent of renter households are overpaying and over one-third of home owners are as well,” said Martin.

It is considered overpaying when an individual pays more than 30 percent of their income towards housing and utilities and if they exceed 50 percent it is considered severely overpaying.

“If we break that down into different income categories and take a look at the extremely low and low income residents, 85 percent of low income renter households are overpaying for housing and almost three-quarters of them are severely paying,” said Martin.

Eighty percent of female headed household in Turlock with children are also living below the poverty line, a statistic Marin said is “particularly sobering.”

Cities are required to update their Housing Element to address such issues. In an effort to encourage the provision of affordable and decent housing state-wide, the state department of Housing and Community Development works with regional council of governments to determine a number of units that must be available to be built in order for the cities to receive funding.

“We have to show that we have the capacity to build that amount,” explained Deputy Director of Development Services for the City of Turlock Debbie Whitmore.

Originally the HCD told the Stanislaus Council of Governments that 45,000 units in the county would need to be made available, an amount that STANCOG was able to reduce to 28,000 after a year of negotiations said Whitmore.   

“We still think the number is relatively high,” said Whitmore, who noted housing production is still very low compared to the early 2000s.

This Housing Element update is to account for years 2015 through 2023 and is a stepping stone to funding through the state department of Housing and Community Development. The Element requires cities to look at all segments of the community such as housing needs, inventory of land, and potential constraints for development.

The statistics revealed Thursday evening led Commission Chair Soraya Fregosi to lament the lack of affordable housing in Turlock, something she attributes to developers disinterest in building this type of housing.

“The sad reality however is that we don’t have enough housing for the low and very low and moderately low income people which is the majority of our population,” said Fregosi. “That is to me what I see as a kind of tragedy that the City might have the will but we certainly haven’t had the partnership with the development community.”

However, Commissioner Eric Gonsalves said he feels that there is interest in the development community to participate in affordable housing construction. However, multifamily dwellings require the developer to release a significant number of units onto the market at once which can not only influence the market, but become a burden.

“That’s part of the developer’s question. Are they going to sell within two or three months or are we going to be there two to three years carrying that cost for that period? I think there are some people out there that want to build and want to do it, it’s just the question in the market is how many of these homes can it support at one time.”

“There is a lot of risk to it,” echoed Whitmore, noting that constructing a multifamily building is more involved than single family homes due to site improvements such as expansive parking lots that must be incorporated.

Dyett & Bhatia will continue to work on the draft of Turlock’s Housing Element through June and there will be another planning commission workshop in either June or July to further solicit public input.

On Thursday, the Planning Comission also:

-          Discussed amendments to the City of Turlock’s Zoning Ordinance after the Turlock City Council pushed back three items to the commission for further consideration. The commissioners collectively agreed that amending the Zoning Ordinance to require double-striping of parking spaces for new development was permissible. They also felt that upgrading the permit process for drive through restaurant facilities in the Transitional Commercial Overlay District, or areas adjacent to the immediate downtown, from a staff level Minor Discretionary Permit to a Conditional Use Permit was advisable. This requires more scrutiny as the applicant is obligated to appear before the planning commission and a larger range of neighboring establishments are notified. Lastly, the commission discussed whether existing cargo containers should be grandfathered in as policy under the new Zoning Ordinance requires a permitting process. Collectively the commissioners said that for safety reasons, businesses and residents with existing containers, or those seeking permanent containers, must undergo the established permitting process. These items will be voted on at the June planning commission meeting before being sent back to council.

-          Whitmore also informed the commissioners of a letter she sent to the Stanislaus County Planning Commission regarding ongoing noise complaints at the Larsa Banquet Hall, which is county property, but within the city’s sphere of influence. The letter advised the county to consider limiting hours of activity at the hall on Saturday nights after the county stated that they found their noise policy to be unenforceable. Whitmore said she has fielded complaints for six years and limiting activity has proven successful within City Limits.

-          Whitmore spoke to the ongoing issue of abandoned shopping carts in town and said staff is preparing to send a letter to “re-educate” businesses about the city’s shopping cart ordinance.

-           Staff also anticipates having an update on the city’s Active Transportation Plan, which is to promote cycling and walking in Turlock, at the July planning commission meeting.