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March 25, 2009 > Union City Begins Updating Housing Element

Union City Begins Updating Housing Element

By Simon Wong

California's cities and counties are in the process of fulfilling their statutory obligation to periodically update their "housing elements" by engaging with stakeholders such as private developers, non-profit organisations, like Eden Housing and the Housing Consortium of the East Bay, and community members.

The Housing Element is part of the General Plan and must identify the City's housing needs for all sections of the community including affordable rental and ownership housing for families and seniors, special needs, homeless shelters and transitional housing. Currently, the State of California requires that cities review their critical housing needs every 71/2 years and produce a five-year plan.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) reviews and certifies the Housing Element for compliance with State Law. Union City is working on the first part of the Housing Element which is a Background Report that identifies existing conditions in the community, current and future needs and resources for the provision of housing. The second part is the Policy Document which sets out the City's goals, policies, programs and quantified objectives.

The City is asking stakeholders to answer the following questions: What are the top three issues you would like to see addressed in this Update effort? What are the top three barriers to affordable housing in Union City? What needs to be done to address the identified issues and barriers?

The Policy Document, which will include public input, will be subject to State review for sixty days once the outreach process ends in June 2009. On its return, it will be presented to the Planning Commission and City Council for adoption before going back to the State for ninety days for verification of intent.

HCD administers a mandated process called Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) that requires every community tries to meet its fair share of housing and determines the total number of units needed based on five-year forecasts of population growth and other trends. That figure is divided and sub-divided into allocations at regional, county and city levels. The Association of Bay Area Governments has an RHNA of 214,500 units, Alameda County, 44,937 units, Union City, 1,944 units, Hayward, 3.393 units, Fremont, 4,380 units and Newark, 863 units. Cities are not required to build their RHNA but must do whatever is in their power to plan to do so during the period January 1, 2007 to June 30, 2014, such as ensuring adequate sites and promoting affordable housing development.

Union City has successfully provided 233 affordable units over the past seven years. Another 74 are in the pipeline.

In 2001, the City adopted an Inclusionary Housing Ordinance that requires 15 percent of all new residential development to be affordable and has since provided 157 units to very-low, low and moderate income households. Sometimes, the City collects in lieu fees that are used towards improving affordability.

Union City has little remaining land for residential development and has seen fewer foreclosures than in other parts of the Bay Area. Many other cities, which have seen high numbers of foreclosures and blight, are speaking with non-profit housing agencies to try to put foreclosed properties to use as affordable housing.

"We would encourage mixed use affordable residential development with health services," stated Loretta Baptista, Policy Associate, Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center.

"We can provide statistical analysis of the local housing market and foreclosures," said David Stark, Public Affairs Director, Bay East Association of Realtors. "May I suggest promoting public awareness of your First Time Homebuyers' Program, including and regularly reviewing policy language for the Program so that it addresses people's needs, engaging with us regarding your policies for foreclosures which we track and ensuring the transparency of the Housing Element with regular updates to Council, Union City residents and stakeholders?

"I realize that representatives from different agencies can easily attend this 4pm Stakeholder Workshop. Would it be possible to have an evening workshop to obtain feedback from the broader community?" concluded Stark.

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