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  • Writer's pictureCRAIKER

Napa’s Unrealistic Inclusionary Housing Ordinance: Part 2

Providing affordable housing is a huge challenge, especially in Napa. Between the Pandemic, economic uncertainties and relentless fires, our desperate need has only accelerated and construction costs continue to spiral higher.

Currently, all new homes and multifamily projects pay housing fees or set aside up to 15% of their units as permanent affordable-income units. As a reminder, the developer does not pay these fees. The market rate buyers and renters pay higher prices for the privilege of living in Napa.

Napa City has tried to be more flexible, encouraging developers to propose alternate solutions instead of paying outrageous fees that go nowhere. There are many options that could be considered. Here’s some:

1. Developers could provide affordable units in an alternate location where land or construction costs are less. Some may consider this ghettoization, but it could provide professionally managed housing that’s better than amateur landlords.

2. New State law AB 68 allows expanding existing multifamily projects up to 25% by converting existing carports, garages or exercise rooms to additional apartments. This could be extended to proposed new projects. Currently, additional units can only be proposed after the project is constructed. Allow them as part of any proposal up-front.

3. Many Napa apartments were built in the 50s and 60s with very low densities that could easily accommodate additional ADUs, not just the conversion of carports and basements.

4. The City should fast track affordable housing projects. While paying lip-service to this, the reality is; the permitting process is still archaic and slow.

5.The City Live/Work ordinance should be revisited. While aging warehouses and idle commercial buildings could be converted to artist habitats, new Live/Work projects could be built on commercial/industrial zoned lands for residential uses.

6. The pandemic has shown office and commercial space vacancies are growing with more commercial “see-throughs” on the horizon. With relaxed zoning, these spaces could be converted to apartments.

7. New multifamily apartments could be built in existing industrial parks on their excess lands. A typical industrial building to land ratio is 1:3, their spare land is ripe for housing with utilities and services already in place.

8. Arguably Napa’s largest landowner could contribute lands to the cause. Napa City has the most properties, yet ask them for an inventory, and the phoneline goes silent. Some years ago, a Marin City had a competition for use of municipally owned properties. I designed and saw 21 affordable units built. Napa could do the same.

9. Here’s the unthinkable: reduce or eliminate municipal fees. In Napa City a 1,200 square-foot Granny flat total fee is approximately $28,500. Even a 400 square-foot Junior ADU conversion is $4,000.

10. While Napa has encouraged ADUs, they have only built 56 in the last five years. More energy to encouraged homeowners is needed. The City could develop pre-approved plans ready-to-go.

Thinking outside the box is essential to producing a wider variety of housing options. Flexibility and urgency are the most important ingredients. Now is the time for Napa to step up.

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB

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