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State increases pressure for cities to provide housing options

New housing unit allocations from the state were unveiled last month, and the city of Claremont was assigned more 1,600 units to plug into parcels around the city. 

The units are the Real Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), part of a city’s housing element, which demonstrates to the state that a city has the room to zone for a certain amount of housing units at varying income levels—including low and very low income.

Previously, Claremont had to distribute only 373 units. Now, it’s up to 1,647, made up by 263 very-low-income units, 148 low-income, 230 moderate-income and 1,000 above-moderate income units, according to Councilmember Jed Leano, who also sits on the Community Economic and Human Development Committee for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).

Claremont isn’t the only city with substantial increases to its RHNA requirements. Cities like Beverly Hills and Huntington Beach have seen their numbers skyrocket. Part of the reason, Mr. Leano said, is a shift in how the state determines housing need.

Previously, the RHNA numbers were based on population growth over an eight year period. Now, thanks to Senate Bill 828, another factor is weighed—existing shortages in each income category.

The new model was borne from the ongoing housing crisis, an issue that has become a top priority of Gavin Newsom’s governorship. Sacramento is grappling with the housing crisis by proposing and passing a number of senate bills designed to make it easier to build housing across the state. Some, like Senate Bill 50, have garnered opposition from cities, who see it as taking away local control.

A big part of this new model, Mr. Leano said, was putting an emphasis on transit access. Instead of further contributing to sprawl, the new plan is to “[Try] to place those housing units where there are transit and jobs,” he said.

One upcoming development that checks that box is Village South. The city is in the middle of its environmental review for the southerly addition to the Village, and are looking at up to 800-900 residential units in that space (down from roughly 1,100 after neighbors objected.)

Mr. Leano said he didn’t yet know how Village South would fit into the housing element equation.

Claremont has struggled in recent years with preparing a housing element that is deemed acceptable by the state. In order to fulfill the previously required 373 units, the city had to place an overlay zone onto the Claremont golf course, which is private property owned by the Claremont Colleges.

Techniques like this worked in the past to satisfy the state, but Gov. Newsom has changed the game entirely. With an increase of about 1,300 units to fulfill, what will Claremont do?

Mr. Leano said the public hearing process to determine where to put the new units would begin in summer or fall of 2020.

“This is going to be a different process for us, with the amount of zoning we have to do,” he said. “The numbers don’t lie—we’re going to have to zone more than we did in the past.”

Ultimately, due to the loss of city redevelopment agencies, Claremont can only zone for the land and wait for a landowner to make a move. “All we can do is the zone, after that its up to the developer to take it from there,” he said.

 

Speakers call for council support on no-fault evictions

With less than two months to go before new rent regulations go into effect, some Claremonters are calling on the city council to retroactively ban no-fault evictions.

AB 1482, which was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom earlier this year, caps rent increases to five percent plus the consumer price index per year and halts no-fault evictions, where a tenant can be evicted without just cause. The new law takes effect on January 1.

In the meantime, renters have expressed concern that landlords could hike up rents or hand out no-fault evictions in the months leading up to January 1. To combat this, nearby cities such as Pomona and South Pasadena have recently passed emergency ordinances banning no-fault evictions until AB 1482 goes into effect.

Two speakers brought up the issue at last week’s city council meeting, with one of them urging the council to pass an emergency ordinance of their own.

Pomona College student Isaac Cui asked the council to be aware of the possibility of renters being affected in a “problematic way,” such as the potential of rent-gouging or evictions.

While he didn’t know for sure what a retroactive provision would do to protect renters, “I think it’s important for the council to be aware of and to create some kind of grant program that would help people in case they are evicted,” Mr. Cui said.

Another Claremont resident, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal, said this was the second time she had asked the council to pass an emergency ordinance, and impugned the council for its inaction and lack of transparency.

“It is ridiculously disappointing that you have shrunk from the opportunity to add Claremont to the list of cities who care more about protecting vulnerable tenants than they do about protecting the profits of a few property owners,” she said.

She accused the council of making up excuses for not passing an ordinance, which she says included that the city may be challenged in court, time constraints and the lack of evidence that Claremont renters are being affected by sudden rent hikes and evictions. She emphasized that renters affected by threats of rent increases or eviction may be too fearful to reach out.

She also brought up two emergency moratoriums the city recently passed—one banning electric scooter rentals and another banning cannabis businesses.

“If weed and scooters constitute an emergency, surely folks getting kicked out of their homes for no good reason should constitute an emergency as well,” she said.

After the COURIER initially reached out to Councilmember Jennifer Stark and Mayor Corey Calaycay for comment, city spokesperson Bevin Handel responded in an email that the city is “looking at options for assistance for renters.”

“We haven’t received any notice from renters about rent increase in Claremont at this time,” Ms. Handel wrote. “Once we have the options for rent assistance, a report would be brought to council for a decision.”

When asked about the possibility of a no-fault eviction ban, Mr. Leano said the city has been looking at the issue for several months. He said the city and council are trying to determine “What is that solution and proposal that fits the needs of our residents.”

Ms. Stark similarly said the city is doing the work to figure out an ordinance that suits Claremont. She later told the COURIER that the resident’s comments were taken seriously. “This is a serious issue and it is not getting brushed under the rug,” she said.  The next city council meeting is November 26.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com