Fee possible fix for housing crunch

With a projected 40 percent increase in jobs countywide by 2025, the question facing the city of San Mateo is: Where will all those workers live?

One answer coming from city officials is to force developers to help pay for housing.

The City Council and Planning Department are studying a proposal to adopt a commercial linkage fee — a $5 per square-foot fee on commercial developments that would go toward affordable housing programs. Only one other city in San Mateo CountyMenlo Park — has the fee, though it’s common elsewhere in the Bay Area.

Top on the list of the plan’s critics is the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s the opinion of the chamber that this will discourage development,” the chamber’s president and CEO Linda Asbury said. “And there are already many organizations working on housing.”

About $3.5 million will be available for affordable housing projects over the next five years, said Sandra Council, a senior management analyst in the Neighborhood Improvement and Housing Division. If the fee had been in place since 2000, the city would have collected about an additional $3 million in fees, she said.

Council pointed to the 800 people on the waiting list for affordable housing and rentals as proof that more must be done.

“A lot of working families cannot afford to live here. We’re not talking about people living off welfare, but working families,” she said.

The City Council is likely to be divided on the issue. Councilmember Jack Matthews said he’s open to the idea of a fee, arguing the city needs more workforce housing. But Mayor Carole Groom worried San Mateo might lose development if it became the second city in the county to impose the fee.

“I don’t think the commercial linkage fee should be done one city at a time,” she said. “If it was done countywide, then I might be a little more in favor of it.”

But Council pointed to a study of cities who adopted the fee that suggested there was no effect on the levels of commercial development afterward. Menlo Park, which imposed its fees more than a decade ago, charges up to $13.62 in fees for some developments, said its housing manager Douglas Frederick.

“There are a number of companies looking to build projects here, so I’m guessing it’s not putting them off too much,” he said.

kworth@examiner.com

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