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EVADA CITY, Calif. April 17, 2017 – On April 20th the Nevada City Planning Commission will review a housing project called “The Grove” that would total over 70 units on Providence Mine Road, near Deer Creek School. This would be the largest development in Nevada City’s recent history and presents an opportunity to increase our housing stock. But as the price of housing rapidly outpaces the earnings of most working people we don’t want more houses we can’t afford. We want homes for local working people. Tenants of Nevada County are joining together to begin building the transformational change our community needs.
In 2003, Nevada City adopted an ordinance requiring 30% of the units in all new housing projects be affordable to those of moderate or low income. For a small rural town we are lucky to have this forward-thinking mandate in place. With the mounting pressures in housing access and affordability straining our community, now is not the time to retreat from such programs but to fortify them with renewed commitment and innovation.
Since the ordinance was passed, every new development has managed to offer at least 30% of units at an affordable initial sale price and have utilized deed restrictions to assure affordability into the future, as suggested by the ordinance. However, the applicants of The Grove development, Robert Upton and the NC Tech Center LLC, have asked the city not to invoke deed restriction and have so far resisted any conversation on setting affordable initial sale prices.
Instead, Robert and his organization have proposed an alternative “affordable by design” plan. They claim that the proximity of the site to Nevada City’s amenities will allow households to eliminate one car and reduce vehicle expenses, for which they suggest a total savings of up to 850$/month. They also claim up to 150$/month savings in reduced heating and cooling costs due to the shared walls in the high density portion of the development. Their theory is that these savings, aggregated over a 30 year mortgage, will offset the cost of the expensive houses they intend to build.
We feel that the content of this plan needs to be more carefully scrutinized. Not only could the questionable claims being made in their “affordable by design” plan be made for practically any high density project in Nevada City’s limits, but it appears incongruous with the actual design features of The Grove itself, for instance, personal garages included with every unit and other expensive and unnecessary car infrastructure.
More to the point, the affordable housing crisis is not only a design problem but primarily an economic one. Ask any tenant or first time home buyer why housing is unaffordable and they will give you the obvious answer: because rent rates and housing prices are too high. If the developers won’t disclose their initial sale price for the affordable units, then we have no assurance of what they intend to offset with their “affordable by design” concept. More importantly, without deed restriction or something like it, any initial affordability will evaporate as soon as the properties change hands in the speculative real estate market.
Robert continues to cite his bottom line in what appears to be a request that Nevada City give him special treatment. And yet the city already has by gifting him R3 (high density) zoning in a gambit to address the city’s lack of affordable housing, increasing the value of his property overnight and opening the profit-making opportunity he is now seeking to exploit. If the developers want the public to accept that their bottom line prevents them from producing affordable housing, they need to be transparent about what that bottom line is.
The truth is, tenants of Nevada County have a bottom line too and we’re not afraid to share it: we demand transformational change in housing!
Our specific proposal for The Grove is that a Limited Equity Housing Cooperative (LEHC) be offered a right of first refusal to buy at least 18 (30%) of the units at an affordable initial sale price. If the Grove developers determine that they cannot produce 18 affordable units, then we recommend that all or a portion of the R-3 zoned land be sold to an LEHC at a fair rate.
We want to make it simple. If The Grove cannot be brought into compliance, we are prepared to take responsibility for producing the affordable housing we need and the rest of the development can move forward as planned.
Cooperatives are essentially organizations that provide a service to their members at cost. In a Limited Equity Housing Cooperative, tenants would be organized to provide their own housing within the framework of a democratic, values-based constitution. There are currently nearly a half million residences organized in this way across the nation. Inspiring and very successful affordable housing programs in rural areas similar to Nevada City have been built around LEHCs, notably, those of the Lopez Community Land Trust. Our proposal is tested, reproducible, effective and transformational.
LEHCs put communities in direct control of their housing, allowing those in need of housing the freedom to stay put and take responsibility for themselves and their community. LEHCs also assure houses serve as homes and not vehicles for profit by permanently removing property from the speculative real estate market that is spiraling out of control. LEHCs are also effective because they achieve affordability without continual monitoring from the state and can lower real costs by removing profit from the equation of housing access.
Stable homes are the essential condition for building a community that will not only survive but flourish in the uncertain times we face ahead. The tenants of Nevada County are realizing our collective agency in order to face this challenge. We have put before Robert and the City of Nevada City a practical and truly innovative housing program that we can all celebrate. We hope they will work with us.
Tenants of Nevada County,
Molly Debrock, Abigail Dack and Cody Curtis