Cities take steps to develop more affordable housing

By Arnold Adler

Contributing Writer

DOWNEY — Plans are underway to encourage building affordable homes in Downey and neighboring cities like Bellflower, Norwalk and Paramount.

In Downey, City Council members May 25 hired a private firm to help develop a program to include affordable units. The vote was 5-0.

“An inclusionary affordable housing ordinance would require a developer to include affordable units in all housing projects in the city,” said Aldo E. Schindler, director of community development, in a report to the council.

The council contracted with Keyser Marston Associates, which bid $42,320 for the job, higher than a second bidder with $38,640.

But Keyser Marston was deemed more experienced in such a project as it has been consulting on housing activity for 48 years and has worked in 29 cities, Schindler said in his report. The job includes a financial evaluation and community outreach, he added.

Schindler noted that hiring the consultant was proposed by a council subcommittee, appointed to study the affordable housing issue March 9, made up of Mayor Claudia Frometa and Councilman Mario Trujillo.

“An inclusionary housing ordinance can be an effective tool for the city to facilitate and encourage the construction of affordable housing units within the community and help satisfy state-mandated affordable housing production,” Schindler said in his report.

Bellflower City Council took final action May 24 on an ordinance amendment which would waive parking restrictions for religious institutions planning to build affordable housing on their “under-utilized” properties.

It takes affect in 30 days, said Elizabeth Corpuz, director of planning and building services.

The law, tentatively approved May 10, is in compliance with a state requirement which took effect Jan. 1, Corpuz said.

That law requires a city to waive up to 50% of on-site parking requirements on a religion-affiliated property and states that a developer building affordable units does not need to replace parking spaces taken by the structures, she explained in a report to the council May 24.

“This ordinance will not adversely affect any property in the city as to value or precedent and will not be detrimental to any area of the city,” Corpuz said in her report. “It is intended to encourage and accommodate the construction of affordable housing on underutilized property owned by religious institutions.

Norwalk has taken a similar path with plans for a 60-unit, affordable housing complex for veterans at San Antonio Drive and Foster Road.

Construction is expected to start in early 2022, said Norwalk Community Development Director John Ramirez.

Talks are ongoing between the city and Mercy House, a nonprofit agency, which would oversee the veterans complex and offer programs to help veterans and their families, Ramirez told a reporter.

It is proposed that a representative of Mercy House would reside in one of the units in the complex, with an estimated construction cost of $20 million.

Mercy House oversees several housing projects including the 50-bed Bellflower Temporary Homeless Shelter on Cedar Street in the southern part of that city.

The approximate 1.5-acre Norwalk site is city-owned and currently used for storage. It originally was the location of a county library and later a senior citizens center.

Paramount recently joined a number of area cities, in compliance with state law, to make it easier for homeowners to build an accessory dwelling unit on their properties if setback and other regulations are met.

The units must have a kitchen, electricity and plumbing. They could be new construction, converted garages, addition to an existing house or part of an existing house.

Also known as “granny flats,” the small units are often used as living quarters for elderly members of the family residing in the main house.

 Although some homeowners said the units would be used by their adult children who can’t afford housing, the accessory dwelling units also may be rented to non-family members.