Claremont housing element expected to get state approval

After years of non-compliance, the Claremont city council has passed a housing element.


The council unanimously passed the latest version of the housing element, which can best be described as a snapshot of the housing stock and demographics in a city. Every city in California is required to have a housing element as part of its general plan.


Claremont has struggled with passing a housing element that would be approved by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Brad Johnson, the city’s director of community development, said the city is in a “very unique position” with the state in being out of compliance. 


Claremont has officially been out of compliance with the housing element since 2013, and earlier this year it was among 45 cities in California called out by Governor Gavin Newsom for being out of compliance.


Mr. Johnson told the council the city initially sent off a housing element to the state for approval in late 2017, but the state rejected it in March 2018.


“It was an unexpected response from the state,” he said. Updates that needed to be done, he said, included “simple items” such as adding a section in the element on the timing between approving a project and when construction begins, update charts and tables about demographics. The Claremont Colleges allowed the city to use the former golf course property to partially fulfill the low-income requirement.


“They asked us to explain what existed on the driving range portion on the site,” Mr. Johnson said.


He noted the state has already said the draft version of this element has met their requirements, and it could take as little as 30 days for the state to officially approve it. 


A main feature of the housing element is the Real Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), which shows Sacramento the amount of available land for housing, broken down by units, Claremont has for a variety of income levels—including low, very low and extremely low income. Each city gets an allocated number of units to fulfill, broken down by income unit. Claremont was given 373 total units—152 above moderate, income, 64 moderate income, 59 low income, 49 very low income and 49 extremely low income.


The kicker is the city is not required to build those units—it only has to show the state it has the room to build them.


While the city meets the required units for the moderate income levels, they have not provided any lower income units. Ultimately, they decided on two sites—a sliver of land at the intersection of Harrison and Cambridge Avenues and a part of the driving range at the long-shuttered Claremont golf course, which is owned by the Claremont Colleges.


Since that golf course is zoned “institutional-educational,” an overlay residential zone needed to be passed in order to qualify it.


Among the 911 housing units approved in Claremont in this current cycle, 831 are above moderate, and 80 are a moderate-income level. None are allocated for lower incomes.


Mr. Johnson acknowledged the city struggles with creating low-income housing, but said it was due to the loss of city redevelopment agencies.


But Isaac Cui of Inclusive Claremont said during public comment that the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance—which gives developers an option of setting aside 15 percent of a development for moderate income levels, 10 percent for low income levels or pay an in-lieu fee—prevents systematic building of lower income units.


One of the biggest issues leading to homelessness, he said, was a lack of affordable housing, which affects not just the county, but Claremont as well.


“So we think one of the ways the city can respond to that is by systematically requiring the building of inclusionary housing to be available to all people,” Mr. Cui said.


Mayor Corey Calaycay noted that while the business at hand was to pass the housing element to be in compliance with the state, the city could revisit parts of it in the future, including the inclusionary housing ordinance.


“So in the end there may be limits on what we can do, but I would certainly invite us to take a look at it,” he said. “We have a new council now, and so at some point perhaps we can have a discussion on some other ways of maybe improving the inclusionary housing ordinance.”


Since Claremont has been out of compliance, it is required to pass a housing element every four years, as opposed to a normal eight-year cycle for compliant cities. Claremont would need to send two four-year updates on time to move into the eight-year category.


This element update won’t count toward that goal, City Manager Tara Schultz said.


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