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City drops affordable housing requirement for $180,000
Westpointe subdivision owner doesnt want to build duplexes, saying Ceres has affordable homes

A developer who wants to build houses on undeveloped lots in the Westpointe planned community does not have to build affordable housing units under an agreement where a $180,000 check is written to the city of Ceres.

City officials say the money will pay the salary of a staff member who can assist with affordable housing in Ceres.

In 2005 the Westpointe Master Plan was changed to drop a Community Commercial designation for a four-acre segment of a subdivision to Medium Density Residential (MDR). During the same time the city OK'd a plan to subdivide 13 acres south of Whitmore Avenue and west of Malik Avenue into 95 residential lots. The plan called for 14 lots to be constructed with duplexes totaling 28 living units. The city outlined that 14 duplexes would be rented at rents to low- and medium-income residents for 10 years and also wanted 40 percent of the single-family homes to be affordably priced for low income earners.

The duplexes were required as fallout from the loss of a 144-unit apartment complex being dropped that was originally in the project back in 2000.

Because the economy slowed down in 2008, only 15 homes have been built and none of the duplexes were started. The unfinished lots changed hands a number of times since.

Now that the housing market is bouncing back, the new owner of the project expressed concerns about building duplexes. Representing the builder, Brian Jones of North Star Engineering Group said that housing is more affordable now than in 2004 and that the affordability requirements are not necessary. Jones noted that the median home price in Stanislaus County in 2004 was $239,000 and today is $204,000. Ceres trends lower than countywide numbers, he added. He cited figures that showed the area median income for a four-person household is $62,000 in the county and that most can qualify for a house.

"It is clear that the affordable housing burdens placed on this project have made the project unbuildable," said Jones in an October 2014 letter to the city.

Ceres Community Development Department Director Tom Westbrook, however, suggested the developer not get off so easy, suggesting "the applicant would need to propose some type of compensation to the city for the loss of those affordable housing units so that the city can develop those units elsewhere in Ceres or use those funds for some other housing programs within the city." Westbrook said the amount of money was not discussed but left to the applicant.

Westbrook said the $180,000 would only buy about three or four loans in a down payment assistance program for first-time homebuyers. "It didn't really seem like a good use of those funds," said Westbrook, "because the original condition would have helped numerous families, some in a rental opportunity with a duplex unit but then also some for a purchase opportunity."

Westbrook and City Manager Toby Wells said their goal is to fund a part-time city staff member to "run some of the housing programs so we can continue to perpetuate hopefully affordability of some of the programs that we can administer through federal or state funds to help other families even though we would not necessarily be helping them in this subdivision..."

The developer wants to pay $25,000 as a deposit and then pay $2,000 for each building permit issued.

When Councilman Mike Kline asked if the elimination of the affordable housing requirements affects the overall affordable housing in Ceres, Westbrook said it doesn't.

The city is required by the state to provide a certain level of regional affordable housing needs. Westbrook said that the West Landing Annexation in 2012 has "enough multi-family and multi-family medium-density and high-density property that we can meet our numbers, so to speak."