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Grand jury: Placer County affordable housing effort ‘inadequate’

Developer fee turned into charitable donation, says report
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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A new report is critical of Placer County efforts to provide affordable housing.

“There is an expectation that our government officials address this situation sooner rather than later,” a grand jury report issued this past week states.

Coming under particular grand jury scrutiny is an in lieu fee that is deposited into a county trust fund and, according to the grand jury, allows a developer to be exempted from providing affordable housing in a development.

The grand jury report states that “without a consistent formula for a fee calculation or requirement,” in-lieu fee money became donation to a registered charity for one developer.

“Riolo Vineyards made a tax-deductible donation of $575,000 to the developer’s charity of choice instead of building affordable housing,” the grand jury stated.

The report covers fees paid in unincorporated areas of the county and not cities like Auburn, Rocklin, Lincoln or Roseville. Builders of larger housing developments are required to construct 10 percent of the development as affordable housing — or pay a fee in lieu. According to the grand jury, one developer’s payment was $4,000 a unit as an alternative to building affordable housing.

The county has chosen to examine the report before responding. It is required by state law to issue an official response approved by the Board of Supervisors.  

The report also notes that about $1 million in in-lieu fee funds is in a trust account for affordable housing but not earmarked for a particular project.

“Placer County is enjoying a resurgence of housing construction after a slowdown due to the recession,” the report states. “However, not everyone who works in the county can afford to live here.”

The grand jury recommendations include calling on the county to simplify the process for developers to build affordable housing in their developments and enforcing the 10 percent affordable housing requirement.

The report noted that the county has taken “positive steps” to address the affordable housing issues, including contracting with a consulting firm in January to develop a regional housing strategy.

The jury is also recommending that the county consider staffing a dedicated unit to ensure developers meet affordable housing requirements, similar to the city of Roseville’s affordable housing department.

The cost of land, challenges of providing public transportation to all areas and finding developers willing to provide lower-cost housing all contribute to the lack of affordable housing in Placer County, the report states.

But lack of implementation of the county’s goals and guidelines has also been a factor, the grand jury said.

“We believe further actions are necessary,” the report states.