Mallory Herrmann

City staff gave a presentation on affordable housing to the community and economic development committee this week. The topics ranged from small lot and infill development to commercial opportunities and infrastructure challenges that the city is facing when it comes to a widely perceived shortage of affordable options.

Josh Johnson, assistant director of planned services, hoped that the presentation would start a conversation. It’s a topic that everyone in attendance seemed eager to address. City councilmembers and staff alike have been vocal in sharing anecdotal evidence, as well as city surveys and demographic information, pointing to a struggle with creating affordable opportunities. Councilmember Bob Johnson, who is an alternate member of the committee, joined the discussion. He cited a recent conversation with a local business owner who said their employees are having trouble finding places to live, finding that new housing averages more than $300,000 – a barrier first-time homebuyers in particular are less likely to meet.

While some factors, like steadily increasing labor and materials costs and a trend toward bigger houses, are outside the city’s control, there were many options suggested for combatting the high purchase points. Promoting narrower lots, smaller house sizes and shorter setbacks were among the suggestions. Easing back on some of the regulatory requirements could also help, such as addressing the 90-day entitlement timeline for properties located within a planned district or revising a pair of standards in the unified development ordinance that requires houses to both be a minimum of 720 square feet and include two enclosed spaces (usually a garage).

“I think we’re all committed to this,” Chairperson Beto Lopez said. “But where do we go from here?”

The CEDC members and city staff are eager to continue thinking of ways to address the issue, suggesting continued brainstorming with the full city council and in conjunction with citizens’ strategic planning and comprehensive master plan initiatives. Think tanks, task forces and citywide meetings with a variety of stakeholders could also be on the horizon.

Councilmembers Lopez, Diane Forte, and Fred DeMoro were joined by Donnie Funk of the planning commission. Councilmember Craig Faith was absent from the Sept. 12 meeting.