Irvine to Take Up Housing Site Choices : Politics: The City Council tonight is scheduled to narrow to three the possibilities for an apartment complex for lower-income residents.


The city that banned chlorofluorocarbons and passed a human rights ordinance may now become one of the first in the state to provide affordable housing for hundreds of families earning $32,000 or less per year.

Tonight, the City Council is scheduled to narrow to three the sites that could be chosen as the first for a demonstration development of 100 to 200 apartments, half of which would be set aside for people who cannot afford homes that can be priced at $350,000 or rents that can start at $800 per month. If the first project succeeds, there might be two more.

The project would be built by a partnership consisting of two nonprofit corporations--the recently created Irvine Community Housing Corp., and Bridge Inc., a San-Francisco-based company that has built more than 3,000 affordably priced homes in Northern California.

How the project will be paid for will be determined later, city officials said.


Other nonprofit corporations have built a total of about 100 units in Orange County, but these have traditionally been for people whose incomes are near or below the poverty level, said Planning Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Gaido, president of the Irvine Community Housing Corp. board of directors. These corporations used federal money for their projects, she said.

Irvine’s plan is aimed at young families whose incomes are between the poverty level--$16,000 for a family of four--and $35,000 per year.

“In affluent Orange County, we’re trying to get that entry-level worker into housing that might otherwise be out of their reach,” Gaido said. “This really focuses on Irvine, and we’re hoping to do units on a larger scale.”

A recent study found that most entry-level salaries in the city were between $23,000 and $32,000 in a plentiful job market, said City Manager Paul O. Brady Jr.

The sites from which the council will choose three are on a list of 10 provided by the Irvine Co., which also has expressed interest in the project. The company has not said yet whether any of the land would be donated or offered for sale, Gaido said.

Among the three top contenders are a 15-acre parcel near Alton Parkway and Harvard Avenue across from City Hall; a 24-acre parcel south of Harvard Park near Walnut Avenue, and a one-acre parcel near the intersection of Culver and Irvine Center drives.

Irvine Co. Vice Chairman Ray Watson praised the proposed project and Bridge Inc.

“The history of nonprofit housing corporations is that they’re all well-meaning, but without a good track record to attract (investors), they can’t get anything done,” Watson said. “Bridge has over 3,500 units to its name in the (San Francisco) Bay area and they have experienced people.” This would be the first Southern California project for Bridge.

Watson has since last year participated on a study group whose members include city officials and community activists. That group recommended forming the Irvine Community Housing Corp.

Watson and the activists disagree, however, about whether the project should replace the affordable housing quotas imposed on developers.

Last August, the quota was set at 25% of the units of every new residential project. Of that 25%, 12.5% are to be priced for those earning $25,000 to $32,000 per year, 11.5% for those earning $16,000 to $24,000 per year, and 1% priced for those earning less than $16,000.

Since 1974, affordable housing quotas have resulted in 3,000 rental units being set aside throughout the city. “Affordable housing can be a touchy subject, which is why we always have required developers to build affordable units first, then build more expensive homes around them,” Gaido said. “That will continue to be our policy so somebody can’t point to a neighborhood or apartment building and say that it is where all the low-income people live.”

Another affordable housing plan scheduled for discussion tonight is a controversial proposal to require developers of commercial property to pay fees per square-foot built into a trust fund to be used for housing. That idea was from Watson as an alternative to affordable housing quotas.