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Irvine Leads County in Construction of Affordable Housing

January 06, 1991

Anyone reading the Commentary by Mary Ann Gaido ("Irvine Should Continue Its Affordable Housing Policy," Nov. 30) about Irvine's housing policies might conclude that we no longer have the best record in Orange County for building affordable housing.

The facts are just the opposite.

Since 1982, more than 2,000 units have been built in Irvine designed exclusively for people who cannot afford market rate rents. Because of the city's partnership with developers--primarily the Irvine Co.--these families now enjoy Irvine's high quality of life.

No other city in Orange County comes close to this record. Indeed, few others are even trying. Irvine, however, is persisting in its effort to promote a balance of housing opportunities, even as traditional state and federal financing sources for such projects are fast disappearing.

This remarkable record was achieved under the auspices of a Housing Element first created in 1980 and updated in 1984. It recognized the relationship between housing and land-use planning and the importance of combining private and public resources to make affordable housing a reality, not just empty ideological statements.

All that changed in 1989 when the council majority--since repudiated in the June elections--recast the Housing Element into a political manifesto that would have drawn standing ovations in Berkeley or Santa Monica for its "progressive" bent. It has only one problem--it isn't working.

The provisions of the plan were so onerous and unfair that the builders were willing to walk away from any new projects rather than submit to what amounted to economic blackmail. In the end, no new housing--affordable, subsidized or otherwise--would have been built.

This is the situation our planning commission faced this fall when Village 38--after three years in the planning pipeline--arrived at our table for a decision. Rather than delay any chance for badly needed new housing in a city whose jobs-housing ratio is greatly out of balance, we interpreted the housing requirements as goals which allowed Village 38 to proceed.

In the next few weeks we will start work on re-creating a truly workable Housing Element that will again promote a broad range of housing in the city.

As to the specifics of Village 38, we required the Irvine Co. to work toward the goal of providing that 25% of all the units be available to families making 80% of the county median income--in other words, affordable housing.

This requirement will be met through a variety of means, including private subsidies, use of government financing programs, land reservations for nonprofit endeavors and ongoing monitoring reports that will help the city understand the market dynamics and act accordingly.

Additionally, the Planning Commission required that the Irvine Co. reserve several sites within Village 38 for as long as four years so that nonprofit builders may be able to put together plans to build even more affordable units.

When we refashion a Housing Element that reflects this history, my bet is that, as in the past, Irvine will continue to provide more affordable housing than any other city in the county.

LOWELL JOHNSON, Planning Commissioner, City of Irvine

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