Newport moves closer on affordable housing

Agreeing to lift constraints on affordable housing development, Newport Beach officials have received tentative approval of the city's housing blueprint.

Regulators from the state Department of Housing and Community Development said last month that the city's moves would bring it into compliance with state law.

If the City Council adopts the plan next month, affordable housing developments near John Wayne Airport would be automatically approved if they meet certain requirements.

Today, developers have to undergo a public-review process. Also, the city would have to accept smaller affordable housing developments in the airport area, while presently any projects with residences needs to be 10 acres or larger.

"This is the major growth area for the city, and we feel strongly [city officials] should be able to meet the housing needs there — for all income segments," said Cesar Covarrubias, executive director of the Kennedy Commission, an Orange County affordable housing advocacy group.

The Kennedy Commission had formally critiqued the city's earlier plans, and submitted its comments to the state.

A total of 2,200 homes are allowed in the "Airport Business Area," which is bounded by MacArthur Boulevard, Birch Street and Jamboree Road.

Last year, the City Council approved plans for the first major mixed-use developments there.

While the city has a policy that requires all residential developers to sell 15% of homes at prices affordable to low-income buyers, advocates said the airport area had some impediments to affordable housing development.

For example, the city requires all residential developers near the airport to get certain approvals from the Planning Commission and the City Council, in order to encourage cohesive master-planned communities.

But Covarrubias said that was problematic because affordable housing developers need to have assurances that their projects wouldn't be subject to NIMBY opposition or shifting political winds.

"You have to have some certainty that the City Council is going to support [a development]," he said.

Under the proposed changes, a project would have fewer planning hurdles if it had 30% or more of its homes affordable for families or individuals making under 80% of the county median income, according to Associate Planner Jaime Murillo.

Another impediment that the state identified was the 10-acre minimum policy, which Covarrubias said would be cost-prohibitive for affordable-housing developers.

Twitter: @mreicher

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