Kern and every municipality within its borders stands to lose a degree of local control over their housing approval processes after state officials concluded not even one government in the county has made sufficient progress toward permitting affordably priced homes and apartments.

A new report by the California Department of Housing and Community Development says all 11 cities in Kern, and the county itself, have work to do in meeting the housing needs of their poorest residents. It also says four local cities — California City, Maricopa, Ridgecrest and Shafter — failed to file a housing progress report as required by a 2017 state law.

The consequence of this lack of progress, as directed by 2017's Senate Bill 35, is the imposition of a "streamlined" permitting system for new housing at the city or county level. That new process will not override zoning and other building limitations but it does remove local discretion on what projects get approved.

WIDESPREAD PROBLEM

Local governments appear to be in good company: The state said in a news release only 3 percent of California's 539 jurisdiction are on pace to meet the housing needs of all their residents, and just 5 percent are making sufficient progress to provide homes for their lower-income residents.

Bakersfield officials attributed the city's reported lack of progress to a shortage of local data on housing affordability. They said they are confident the city is living up to its housing obligations and noted the city has no authority to compel developers to build certain kinds of housing.

City Manager Alan Tandy said Bakersfield regularly sponsors and helps finance a variety of housing types and that, additionally, it is helping build $9 million worth of shelter for people who are homeless.

Assistant City Manager Jacqui Kitchen said the state's plan to streamline Bakersfield's housing permitting system is likely to have minimal local impact because the city's existing system is mostly ministerial already.

"We're … doing everything we can and we're not worried about the streamlining," Kitchen said. She added the city is working with the Housing Authority of the County of Kern to contribute money toward construction of new affordable housing in east Bakersfield.

COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

The housing authority's executive director, Stephen Pelz, acknowledged Kern has a substantial unmet need for affordable housing. While the county is working on bridging the gap, he said, the problem is much bigger than a single jurisdiction.

A basic "disconnect" driving the state's affordable-housing shortage, he said, is that home and rental prices are rising faster than household incomes. At the same time, legislative priorities in Sacramento are raising development costs, he said.

Removing layers of local review in the permitting process may actually be a good thing, he said, because it will increase certainty for developers and speed project approvals.

Pelz asserted the bureaucratic foot-dragging housing developers face elsewhere in the state isn't a problem in Kern, which he said is more welcoming to new construction.

"You can't take a year to approve something," he said of approval processes in other parts of California. "You need to move it along and you can't just pick it to death. … It kills projects.”

Under SB 35, municipalities and city governments deemed to have fallen behind in meeting their housing affordability goals are put in one of two classifications. These are defined by the kind of projects that will now face streamlined approval processes.

In Kern, all but one jurisdiction face streamlined approvals for projects composed of at least 10 percent affordable housing units. Only Wasco was placed in the more stringent classification of streamlined reviews in projects where affordable housing makes up at least 50 percent of the total units.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com for free newsletters about local business.

(3) comments

Gary Crabtree

There is one very simple answer to why there is not more affordable housing in California. It’s called the government. The city adds “impact’ fees to every permit for parks ($2,095), sewer ($4,600), transportation ($12,870) and schools ($2.19 to $8.19 per Sq.Ft. or from $3,800 to $14,250) resulting in a fee from $23,365 to $33,815 for the typical home. Then the state mandated that every new home have a fire sprinkler system which adds another $4,500 to $5,400 to the cost. And beginning in 2020, every new home is required to have PV solar systems that will cost another $12,000 for a 3.2Kw system that will be inadequate to power the typical home thus leaving the owner with a large “true up” bill at inflated rates at the end of the year. Further, land is controlled by a few and the “agents of production” keep rising. The only way the home builders can build affordable home is to reduce their size or lessen the quality. It’s no wonder that people are migrating to other parts of the country.

shazam72

Has anybody seen what happens to "public housing" when "low income" people rent??? I have. We tried to help a mom and her 5 kids who were on the street. We let them stay in our RV at our house (did not charge her rent). She allowed her kids to totally destroy my $63,000 RV. In the last few months we've had untold hundreds of people calling and texting us wanting to buy our property, As there are now several rentals in our area, I'm sure it is so they can get 'rent' money from the government (our taxes). Unfortunately the low incomes renting (via welfare) pack up and leave a total mess behind and leave their pets behind also. We have 3 rescue dogs and numerous cats (and kittens) that were left behind. SO, NO, we will not ever do that again.

2carpoor

Have you noticed the prices of houses in Bakersfield this past year? Another bubble about to take people down? You'd think we are Silicon Valley. Good luck! You may sell well but where are you going to go?

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