San Mateo may boost affordable-housing requirement

City officials are once again considering ways to boost the supply of affordable housing, including requiring developers to include more low-cost units in future projects.

San Mateo requires developers to include a minimum of 10 percent below-market-rate housing, according to Councilwoman Carole Groom.

However, some residents don’t think that’s enough.

“I think they probably need to be a little bit tougher in their negotiations,” said Stacy Weiss, secretary of the North Shoreview Neighborhood Association. “The city could be doing more.”

San Mateo has required developers to include some affordable units in larger projects since the passage of the voter-sponsored initiative Measure H in 1991, which also included limits on heights and density in some parts of town.

Officials debated raising the 10 percent requirement as part of 2004’s Measure P, a renewal of Measure H, but ultimately could not agree on a level and only changed the language to make the 10 percent a minimum, rather than a flat rate.

Some other cities on the Peninsula have higher requirements, including South San Francisco, which is at 25 percent, and Millbrae, at 15 percent.

“We did that to gain flexibility,” Groom said of the new language. “It hasn’t had an effect yet, but it’s only been a year.”

Some developers have paid attention, however: 15 percent of the homes in Bay Meadows Phase II, approved by the City Council in the fall, will be offered at below-market rates.

City staff will need to look closely at the impact on new development of boosting the affordable-housing requirement to 12 percent or 15 percent, for example, according to Community Development Director Bob Beyer.

In addition, city officials need to consider who winds up paying for those additional units — and how to preserve an appropriate balance of housing and commercial properties in the city, he said.

“They need to look at whether, if they increase the requirement, projects that are planned can still be successful,” said Walter Kieser, managing principal with Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. and a consultant working with the city on the issue. “There is a cost on development, and the question is whether it is a cost that allows a project to be feasible and attract investment.”

In 1999, the Association of Bay Area Governments recommended that the city of San Mateo create 2,437 new affordable units by 2006, including residences for low-income renters and buyers. By 2006, San Mateo had built 1,276, according to ABAG reports.

A public meeting will be held Tuesday to brainstorm new strategies for enticing developers to build more work force units, according to Kieser, who will attend to offer some economic perspectives on local and regional affordable-housing issues.

The community meeting on affordable housing takes place Tuesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 330 West 20th Ave.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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