Glendale City Council candidates rail against spending on low-income housing

Several City Council candidates railed against spending on low-income housing in Glendale at a candidate forum Thursday night, specifically pointing to the high costs of a Habitat for Humanity project completed last year.

Some candidates compared the cost of the five-unit Habitat for Humanity project at 624 Geneva Street to that of a Ritz Carlton or Buckingham Palace, while longtime City Hall critic Mike Mohill said the city shouldn't even be in the business of building affordable housing.

“Why do we need low-income housing? Malibu doesn't have it,” Mohill said.

Glendale has long had a Housing Authority, governed by the City Council, that partners with developers to build affordable housing using state and federal funds, as well as redevelopment money. However, those developments have long wait lists, and service providers often complain about the high demand for affordable housing stock in Glendale.

While the candidates were asked to talk about what they considered an appropriate price for affordable housing, some took the opportunity to slam city officials for approving five affordable housing projects by Advanced Development Inc., a developer the city is suing for allegedly falsifying project costs and bilking millions from the city.

Rudy Soulayan, the moderator of the Rossmoyne Mountain Homeowner's Assn. forum, asked the candidates if the $608-per-square-foot cost was the right price for the Habitat project.

The project, aimed at first-time home buyers, cost $3.7 million — $2.56 million of which came from the city's Housing Authority, according to a city report. Much of the city's share went to pay for the land, which was slated for a larger, market-rate project that many in the Rossmoyne neighborhood disliked.

Even when the City Council approved the project, some were concerned about the cost per square foot. Most of the candidates at the forum said it was too much for an affordable housing project.

Candidate Edith Fuentes, the former zoning administrator at City Hall, said that $150 to $200 per square foot is more than enough for an affordable housing project.

“There was waste after waste,” Fuentes said.

It's difficult to find a range for how much affordable housing should cost per square foot as most of the studies done in the state were done in the 1990s. The California Department of Housing and Community Development is working on a cost analysis that is slated to be completed this spring.

But a 2009 Washington state study that analyzed 65 affordable housing projects — from senior living to veteran housing — found that the average construction cost was $102 per square foot.

Unlike most of the other candidates, Sam Engel, former neighborhood services administrator, applauded the Habitat project and the community garden that was built along with it.

“I think that is the model for the kinds of projects we should be building in the city,” he said, adding that when it was approved, the city was “flush” with affordable housing money because of redevelopment.

But in February 2012, the state eliminated redevelopment funding.

“We don't have that luxury anymore and one of the things we're going to have to do as City Council … is we are going to have to look at those resources that we have and competitively bid those kind of projects so the costs come in less per square foot than we might have been able to do when we were flush with housing money,” he said.

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