LIVERMORE – The city easily exceeded state target numbers to build housing for higher income families during the last eight years but fell significantly short of aims for affordable housing for low- and very low-income residents.
A planning report presented to the city council at its Monday meeting revealed the city issued permits for 1,411 units that catered to those with “above moderate” incomes of more than $171,350 a year for a family of four. The state had required 920 from 2015 to 2022 in its most recent eight-year Housing Element plan.
In addition, the city issued 649 permits for housing for families deemed to have moderate incomes between $109,600 and $171,350 a year — outdistancing the state required 496.
On the other end, the city issued permits for just 56 units for “low income” families — those making $71,400 to $109,000 a year — far below the 474 established as the target in the state’s Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA). Housing for “extremely low” — up to $46,300 for a family of four — and “very low” — up to $71,400 — also fell short of the targeted 839 units with permits issued for just 196 over the eight years.
“Most jurisdictions in the state are in similar positioning to have not met their lower income RHNA numbers,” Livermore’s Senior Planner Tricia Pontau told the council.
Paul Spence, the city’s community development director added that most cities cannot meet the lower levels because the units require subsidies.
“Livermore has a fantastic program that helps provide some of those units,” Spence said. “But just like most cities, there’s not enough subsidy available to meet all that demand.”
Earlier this month, Livermore passed a new state-mandated Housing Element plan for 2023 to 2031 that required the city to establish where new housing could be built during the next eight-year period. Livermore’s share to create housing in the region to help the state’s housing crisis was established at 4,570. The target includes 2,075 units for low- and very low-income families, and 2,495 units for moderate to above moderate incomes levels.
Mayor John Marchand said it is difficult to build housing on the lower end in a region where “it takes a lot of money to be poor.”
“This city doesn’t build affordable housing. The market builds it, and it requires significant subsidies to build low-income and very low-income because the market just won’t build those,” Marchand said. “So, we have to find a number of partners to do that.”
Pontau said permitting for housing was lower in Livermore in 2022 than in recent years. The city report showed the annual numbers dropped each year from the 436 issued in 2015 to 106 in 2022. While the numbers for permits were above 300 from 2015 to 2019, the numbers dropped to under 200 since 2020.
City officials blamed the slowdown on the COVID-19 pandemic and litigation that has prevented construction of some approved projects, including the 47-home development on Garaventa Hill, as a factor in failing to meet the Housing Element target. Residents fought the Garaventa development and won, prompting the city to rescind its approval of the project in December. This market-rate project, however, did not include any affordable housing and did not prevent the city from meeting its RHNA numbers.
Pontau and Marchand also cited the dispute over the controversial Eden Housing project, which would build 130 units of affordable housing on the area known as the Lucky site, bounded by L Street, Railroad Avenue, the extension of K street and Veterans Way. The project remains in litigation.
Opponents, who believe the project should be moved across the street to the northside of Railroad Avenue where it could be larger, filed lawsuits they have lost. They have appealed to the appellate court and the California Supreme Court.
Marchand said he believed the city was on the “right side” of the Eden debate.
“In the last year, that group has spent over $2 million fighting 130 apartments. Over $2 million,” Marchand said. “It looks like it’s going to be more millions needed to fight it. So, (Eden is) trying to build it, and there are people trying to stop it.”
Councilmember Ben Barrientos, recently elected to the council with a campaign that included his support for relocating the Eden Housing project, said the litigation could have been avoided if the city had compromised and moved the project to another location.
“That’s what the last campaign was all about,” Barrientos said during the meeting. “If we were to build Eden Housing across Railroad (Avenue), none of this would have happened.”
In response, Marchand, who favors the Eden Housing project as it was approved, said there was no funding to move the development to land across the street that the city does not control. SLD had suggested an alternative plan with a total of 200 units but was rebuffed.
Marchand called the plan deceitful and “and out to kill the project and not move it.”
“Moving it across the street would cost approximately $50 million,” Marchand said. “There was no ability to move it.”
Tuesday morning, Barrientos said in an interview and statement that he had received very different information regarding the cost from those who want the Eden project relocated. They disagreed with Marchand’s quote of a $50 million price tag to move the project.
They said that they had obtained expert appraisals for relocation at much lower costs. He added that experts put the city’s cost at $8.5 million for 155 Eden units, and the community group understands that the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District has been exploring workforce housing options and could be a partner for a project such as this. An investment of $2.5 million could accommodate 45 affordable housing units for teachers and staff.
Barrientos said he learned that the City Affordable Housing Fees and state grant funds could provide $9.1 million to pay for the land.
Barrientos added, “(Marchand) said that the whole thing could have been built or already started a long time ago if it wasn’t for the people fighting against it. It’s not that we’re against Eden Housing. We want the Eden Housing. We want more. And a lot of people in the community felt that it should be on the other side of (Railroad Avenue).”
He also noted that there is more money to pay for the acquisition of the parcels needed. Eden Housing continues to bear the cost of removing contaminated soil at its current site that once housed a dry-cleaning business.
“On the other side, there isn’t that much of a problem, so Eden has the benefit of not having to spend that money. They can keep that money to build the complex,” he said.
Barrientos said there was still time for a compromise to come up with a different solution to what is planned.
“I do think the city council should be working to help the whole city and not fighting each other,” Barrientos continued. “Isn’t that the way it should be working? Work together and solve it together and make it a ‘win-win’ situation.”
During the meeting, Pontau updated the council on other projects in the works that will help to meet future housing targets, including the Legacy complex’s 222 market rate units downtown; the Isabel Neighborhood Specific Plan’s Triad development, which will have 112 for-sale condominiums for moderate and above-moderate incomes; and Isabel’s Shea Portola plan for 210 rental units and 89 for-sale condos for incomes of all levels.
The Avance building will include 44 very low-income units for developmentally disabled residents; the Vineyard 2.0 project will have 24 units of permanent supportive housing; the 140-unit Pacific Avenue Senior Housing project will be marketed to low- and very low-income residents; and Assisted Living at the Well will have 84 assisted living suites and 44 memory care suites. (The memory care suites do not count toward the Housing Element.)
Pontau told the council a few other projects were under review, so they should expect to see more building permit activity in the next few years.
She added that the city issued 121 permits in the last two years to residents wishing to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their properties. A city report showed 137 permits were issued for ADUs from 2013 to 2020. The units count toward meeting state housing targets.