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All About Rezoning: The Tactic Touted as a way to Tackle the Shortage of Affordable Housing

Santa Barbara County meeting is set to tackle key issues.
Cover Image Source: A "House For Sale" sign | Getty Images | Photo by Mario Tama
Cover Image Source: A "House For Sale" sign | Getty Images | Photo by Mario Tama

Affordable housing has become a subject of discussion across the US, be it in Congress, election campaigns, or online forums such as TikTok and Reddit. As people look for innovative solutions as well as support from the government, the League of Women Voters has asked whether there should be clarity on the type of housing that developers intend to build, before rezoning approximately 40 commercial or agricultural properties for residential purposes.


"Our hope for this meeting is that people will have a better understanding of what kind of development we are going to have," said Dianne Black, a retired director of the county’s Planning and Development department and now a member of the housing committee for the League of Women Voters.

While there's a probability of achieving 10 to 20 percent lower-income housing, there's a higher likelihood that 80 to 90 percent will be market-rate, rendering them unattainable for the most vulnerable demographic.

Image Source: Richard Newstead/ Getty Images
Image Source: Photo by Richard Newstead | Getty Images

The county's rezoning agenda encompasses 18 parcels in South County, including 12 agricultural parcels near the City of Goleta, totaling 340 acres. Three of these parcels have applied for the fast-track Builder's Remedy permit process, potentially yielding 2,549 units through increased density per acre.

However, under this scheme, only 5-10 percent are designated as "affordable," leaving the majority subject to market rates.

Women holding her new Rental home key (representative image)  | Pexels | Photo by Kindel Media
Image Source: Housing | Pexels | Photo by Kindel Media

Black advocates for concrete commitments from developers before granting rezoning privileges, stressing the need for agreements over conceptual plans. "We would like to have binding commitments instead of grand plans," she said.

The county faces the challenge of meeting its Housing Element assessment requirements, with a target of over 5,000 units for the 2024-2031 cycle. While various strategies are proposed, including rezoning parcels for multi-family residential use, the focus remains predominantly on market-rate housing.

At the same time, there's a substantial shortfall in very-low- and low-income homes, when it comes to fulfilling the state-mandated quotas.

A general view of properties at North Lakes | Getty Images | Photo by Glenn Hunt
Image Source: Housing | Getty Images | Photo by Glenn Hunt

Lisa Plowman, the county's planning director, acknowledges the necessity of rezoning a significant portion of parcels for lower- and moderate-income households to meet state targets. This includes exploring density bonuses for moderate-income units and potentially exchanging concessions like height or parking.

To address the disparity, the League suggests identifying additional parcels owned by public agencies for affordable housing projects. They emphasize the importance of partnering with non-profits like the city and county Housing Authorities and People's Self-Help Housing, known for their success in building affordable homes.

Image Source: Travelpix Ltd/Getty Images
Image Source: Photo by Travelpix Ltd | Getty Images

The upcoming meeting scheduled for March 19 serves as an essential platform for property owners and developers to present their plans. The meeting, slated to discuss rezoning vital for completing the Housing Element, offers an opportunity to assess developers' intentions and community needs.

In a region where escalating rents and home prices threaten even moderate-income earners, the definition of "affordable" extends beyond low-income categories. "For other income groups that are higher than low income, but still can’t afford the rents or the price to purchase a home, there is no subsidy source," said Rob Fredericks, who runs the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara.

"Without local subsidies, like bond measures, or a portion of transient occupancy tax or some other local revenue-raising measure, I fear there will be no help for those who are not low-income yet still cannot afford rents."