At a Nov. 9 board of supervisors meeting, Economic and Community Development director Kathy Gallino and Housing Programs Manager Lee Kimball presented a potential plan for the use of a state-issued grant to provide incentives for workforce housing development in the county. The proposed plan makes use of an estimated $1.2 million over a five-year period, by providing low-interest (not to exceed 3%) loans as an incentive for homeowners and developers to build new affordable housing units.

The board resolved last Tuesday to go forward with the application for the funds and to open a 30-day public comment period, during which county residents can submit their suggestions, comments, and concerns regarding the plan to the county. The plan will be revised and brought back to the board for approval following the 30-day period.

The funding in question is being made available by the State of California Department of Housing and Community Development, through the Permanent Local Housing Allocation (PLHA) Program. According to the presentation on Nov. 9, this program was created to provide a “permanent, ongoing source of funding to local governments for housing-related projects and programs that assist in addressing the unmet needs of their local communities.”

Kimball stated that the county currently “has a need for 1,096 housing units in order to keep up with current demand.” This is based on the Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) which covers an eight-year period from Dec. 2018 to June 2027. This determination was part of a housing element update for the county’s general plan that was created in 2018.

While housing of all kinds is needed, the plan specifically focuses on affordable housing and workforce housing, in accordance with data from the RHNA.

Kimball told the board, “The PLHA funding allows us to target incentivizing development of workforce housing, and that’s what we’re going to suggest as the strategy.”

The 5-year plan states that 85% of the funding “will be used to provide low-interest loans to offset costs for pre-development or development of ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) or other affordable single-family housing units for individuals or households with incomes at or below 120% of AMI (Ares Median Income).”

According to Kimball, Calaveras County residents with an annual income of less than $98,040 would qualify for these new housing units.

Repayment of loans and any interest received by the county would go into a PLHA Reuse Account, to be applied toward further eligible housing-related expenses.

The plan suggests focusing on “pre-development, development, acquisition and/or preservation of affordable rental or ownership housing, including ADUs (accessory dwelling units).”

The development could include new or renovated apartment buildings, single-family homes, multi-family units like duplexes or townhomes, and accessory dwelling units, which could mean additions to an existing home or property. There are stipulations, however, such as a requirement that ADUs “shall be accessible for occupancy for a term of no less than 30 days.” This means the funds cannot be used toward short-term vacation rentals.

Funds could potentially be used for various construction costs including “site preparation, utility connections, foundations, engineering, permitting fees, in addition to material and labor per unit,” according to Kimball.

Kimball adds, “this will meet the growing need for workforce housing in our county.”

The five-year plan retroactively includes 2019 and 2020, for which funds are already in place and will be made available to the county upon acceptance of the grant. Additional funds for 2021-2023 will be made available at a later date.

Gallino and Kimball “anticipate a minimum of 21 affordable housing units will be developed as a result of PLHA funding and supports.”

District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi voiced concerns about the plan, including the possibility of the county “acting as a bank” for the loans, which would include the future collection of funds for repayment.

“I just have grave concerns about us loaning money out,” said Garamendi. Other board members agreed, asking how the county could provide other incentives that would be of less risk to the county and have the greatest impact on the housing issue.

Kimball offered that there is flexibility in the plan and that the loans could be made forgivable. Permit fee mitigation to help offset costs for developers is another possibility.

Board members also questioned whether the total amount of funds was enough to be an incentive to developers, as one building project could easily use up more than the whole budget.

Supervisor Merita Callaway expressed interest in the plan, saying, “In all the years I’ve been on this board we have done nothing for affordable housing.” She continued, “This is the first time that we as a county have the funding and have an opportunity to do something and not just pontificate that we need housing. We need workforce housing. If we don’t do this, then in another 10 years we’re going to be sitting here talking (about) the same thing. Here is a wonderful opportunity, and we should proceed.”

Gallino and Kimball plan to compile feedback from both the board and the community in order to draft the final plans, which they will bring back before the board in December. Public comment will be received by the county until Dec. 9.

The presentation and plan information can be viewed on the county website, at calaverasgov.us under Items of Interest. Comments may be sent to: Lee Kimball, 509 East Saint Charles Street San Andreas, CA 95249, Lkimball@co.calaveras.ca.us, (209) 754-6734 or Kathy Gallino, 891 Mountain Ranch Road, Building A San Andreas, CA 95249, kgallino@co.Calaveras.ca.us, (209) 754-6742.

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Marie-Elena studied creative writing, art, and photography at University of Nebraska at Omaha, graduating with a BA in Studio Art -Visual Media. She moved to California from Nebraska in 2019 and is happy to call Calaveras County her home.

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