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City wants to put the word out about affordable housing

Friday, June 1, 2018 by Jack Craver

What is an “affordable unit”? Who qualifies for one? And above all else, where are these units, and how do you get one?

A resolution approved unanimously on Thursday by the City Council Housing and Planning Committee asks city staff to develop a program to connect low-income tenants to available income-restricted units.

The resolution suggests a number of strategies for connecting with those who might benefit from the program, such as encouraging government agencies and nonprofits that serve low-income populations to refer clients to the housing program. It also asks city staff to explore ways to incentivize or require landlords with income-restricted units to provide notice to the city when one of the units becomes available.

Finally, the resolution asks staff to consider ways that the program could help identify housing for those in “emergency situations,” including those fleeing domestic violence or at risk of homelessness.

Things are already improving, noted Mandy De Mayo, an official with the city Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department. The city recently put up its first online affordable housing inventory, which includes all income-restricted units.

Some of those units are subsidized directly by the city or produced as a result of affordable housing tax credit programs, while others are the product of density bonus programs, in which developers built a certain number of affordable units in return for increased entitlements, such as greater height.

De Mayo noted during remarks to the committee, however, that the map of affordable units does not tell prospective tenants which units are vacant or soon to be vacant.

“It’s not real-time … it will involve making phone calls to find out if the units are available,” she said.

Council Member Greg Casar noted that nonprofit housing organizations, such as Foundation Communities, have their own systems where people can join the waiting list to be notified of the next available unit. It’s much more challenging, however, for people to find out when one of the incentivized units that are sprinkled throughout the city becomes available.

Casar later said that in setting up a centralized system of affordable units, the city should prioritize units that are not part of an organization with a waiting list.

In the past, Casar has noted that those gaining access to affordable units may tend to be those with greater “social capital,” including personal connections and education.

Council Member Alison Alter voiced a similar perception about units in her district.

“Right now the college students are taking those spots, and the other people who might be in need are not aware of being able to apply for those units,” she said.

Alter added that she would like to see the system include units that are not income-restricted but nevertheless affordable to lower-income people.

While there are a diminishing number of “market affordable” units in town, there remain a number of older properties that still rent units that those with incomes at 60 percent of the area median can afford. The city is gradually losing those properties to redevelopment, however.

De Mayo noted that not all affordable units are open to everybody. Some are targeted to specific populations, such as the homeless or seniors. Ideally, replied Casar, the city would have a searchable database of units that can be filtered based on such factors.

Photo by woodleywonderworks made available through a Creative Commons license.

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