Streamlining Affordable Housing Development Across SoCal

Joy Silver discusses CHOC’s approach to tackling the crisis, and explains why the pending and recent state legislation is gaining momentum.

Joy Silver, Regional Director, Community Housing Opportunities Corp. Image courtesy of Community Housing Opportunities Corp.

Regulatory barriers, high costs and limited public resources have been hindering housing construction in California for years, leading to a deep affordability issue across the entire state.

According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the state needs 1.8 million new housing units by 2025, or 180,000 homes per year, but production averaged less than 80,000 new homes annually over the past decade.

Multi-Housing News reached out to Joy Silver, regional director with Community Housing Opportunities Corp., to examine the current housing needs in the region, particularly in the Inland Empire area. Silver explained what’s causing the rampant affordability issue in Southern California and unveiled CHOC’s approach to tackling the housing crisis across the region.

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How dire is the affordable housing situation in Southern California right now?

Silver: Even before the pandemic, affordable housing had been a national crisis for low-income families. A recent study by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition reports that there is no state or county where a renter working full-time for minimum wage, could afford a two-bedroom apartment. Stagnating wages for low- and mid-wage workers with race, ethnicity and gender pay disparities have contributed to the crisis for decades.

In Coachella Valley, home to Southern California’s Riverside County’s nine desert cities, over a third of renters spend more than half of their income on housing. As is true nationally, the increase in the typical household’s rent far outpaces the rise in the typical full-time worker’s annual earnings.

While those in higher economic brackets benefit from low-interest rates and a strong stock market, those considered essential workers continue to earn less-than-livable wages. The housing demand is high and supply is low, with workers seeking affordable housing far from their place of employment.

The Monarch. Rendering courtesy of CHOC

California has recently proposed three new housing bills—SB6, AB 115 and SB 15—to combat the rampant affordability crisis. Could these legislations help alleviate the state’s housing crisis? Why?

Silver: Overall, yes. These bills would help increase the number of sites available to develop affordable housing.

Basically, these three bills allow commercial retail- and office-zoned properties to rezone for residential development. It would certainly add units into the mix and that is a good thing. An increase in the minimum density currently proposed would make the bills stronger.

What can you tell us about CHOC’s strategy to tackle the housing crisis in Southern California?

Silver: Our strategy in Southern California is to increase the available supply of beautifully designed, sustainable affordable housing for very low-, low- and moderate-income households. By creating equitable and economically integrated communities, neighborhoods have the opportunity to be transformed and lives can be stabilized. We continue to seek opportunities to develop multifamily residential, affordable housing communities within a 100-mile radius of the Coachella Valley.

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CHOC has recently received $21 million in funding to move forward with the construction of The Monarch, the first affordable housing project in Palm Springs in over a decade. What’s the reason behind the long construction gap when it comes to affordable housing in Palm Springs?

Silver: Palm Springs is certainly not alone in its delay in building affordable housing. The effect of wildfires; Proposition 13; a 1978 voter-approved measure that limits tax increases on both commercial and residential buildings and homes until they are sold; NIMBYism, the transformation from the state redevelopment agencies into naming cities as successor agencies; the continued need for state and federal permanent; dedicated funding; and the process of revising city development regulations, coupled with the effect of the pandemic on the economy, have magnified the existing crisis.

What are some of the key characteristics you are planning to implement at The Monarch?

The Monarch Apartment Homes. Image courtesy of CHOC

Silver: The Monarch multifamily residential rental community will consist of one-, two- and three-bedroom units. It is designed in the world-renowned, midcentury modern architectural style Palm Springs is famous for and complements the neighborhood’s historical Wexler Steel Homes.

We will incorporate sustainable building materials and the butterfly roof design—first used in modern times by Le Corbusier and brought to the desert by William Krisel. The site plan and natural desert plant landscape will support actual monarch butterflies, and the children’s splash pad in the center of the community will carry the design of the butterfly, as well.

How do you expect The Monarch to impact the city in the short and long term?

Silver: California’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation plan has identified the need for 167,351 additional units in Riverside County, where CHOC is currently developing. The number allocated to Palm Springs has been established at 2,557 units.

In the short term, our impact can be seen in terms of creating public awareness that affordable housing is not the public housing of earlier ages. Instead, The Monarch carries the architectural aspects that make the city of Palm Springs famous.

This works for other cities that seek to define themselves by using features often found in higher-income residences, and/or city downtown architecture. This allows for economic integration for properties of multiple income levels, along with commercial properties and amenities to distinguish city identities while maintaining individual preferences.

In the long term, The Monarch creates a lasting city asset, adding to the housing stock of affordable units, housing families and building futures.

The Monarch. Rendering courtesy of CHOC

What are your predictions for the region’s affordable housing market going forward?

Silver: I think our region will seek an economic rebound from the pandemic by retooling the economy and creating local policies that work cohesively with affordable housing. A housing network has already been created to use available and identified resources with a goal of producing 10,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years in Coachella Valley.

Pending and recent state legislation addresses developing housing on land zoned for commercial or public uses and on church-owned lands. Whether or not it passes this time around, the solutions are gaining momentum. I think we will see permanent annual increases to the California Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program.

We see the streamlining of the development process happening on many local levels. Ultimately, as businesses see the value of affordable housing to their workforce and employee retention, political will is strengthened. Increasing the supply of affordable housing will truly begin in earnest. My prediction? CHOC will be a willing partner going forward.

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