Approval of the development plan for Placer Ranch offers a fresh take on how Placer County is prioritizing and enforcing the affordable housing policy. The inclusionary requirement is inked in the plan, meaning that 10 percent of the 8,000 housing units slated for construction must be made affordable to low- to moderate-income families. It’s a bright spot in the controversial plan that was approved earlier in December, but it is also vulnerable to being snuffed out as the project faces the test of time and other influences. It’s a tough road ahead and there is enormous risk that our elected officials will buckle and accept fees in place of construction of affordable homes.
More than ever, the inclusionary policy must be retained — without exception — for every new greenfield construction project. Up until this point, development plans were sidestepping affordable unit requirements by including in-lieu fee proposals from the get-go. Take the Bickford Ranch development proposal as a prime example. The county reviewed and approved the plan with a meager fee in lieu for the 190 affordable units that should have been required. This was in 2015 as the housing crisis was beginning to balloon, yet the county failed to do the right thing or voice any objection to the maneuver. With Placer Ranch, now we have a plan that includes construction of affordable housing. To stay the course, we must urge our Board of Supervisors to not chicken out.
Another threat to the affordable build at Placer Ranch is the hot debate around the project generally. There is criticism regarding its proximity to the landfill, impacts on infrastructure and traffic congestion. The need for affordable housing that’s accessible to all income levels must be an emphasis as well. The future housing needs of the community should be weighed equally in the discussion as it is carried forward.
While we wait for the prospect of new housing at Placer Ranch, the deficit of affordable housing in Placer County looms. We’re currently more than 3,000 units short. This burdens our community day after day. We can’t hold a torch for any one project or single solution to right the ship. Even with the new Housing Trust Fund in the works, it is unrealistic to think that it alone will fund and accelerate construction of the growing backlog of affordable homes. To build momentum, we need more bold leadership from the Board of Supervisors with action around inclusionary zoning, expedited approval processes for developments, leveraging assets like public land, and future ballot measures. Progress can happen when our elected officials don’t lose sight of the goal and don’t stop seeking solutions until our housing crisis is resolved.