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Bakersfield establishes 'trust fund' for affordable housing


Bakersfield City Hall South.

A new trust fund established by the Bakersfield City Council will attempt to spur affordable housing construction within the city at a time when both rent and housing prices are increasing.

On Wednesday, the council voted 6-0 to appropriate $5 million of Public Safety and Vital Services Measure N funding to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The money is slated to be used to prevent homelessness and bolster investment in an area that has lagged until recently.

“It will help. Every unit counts,” said Bakersfield Economic Development Principal Planner Cecelia Griego. “There’s been so much more investment from the state and the city into affordable housing, which is really helping. People are just now finally reacting and seeing the need.”

When Gov. Jerry Brown halted funding for local redevelopment agencies in 2011, investment in affordable housing plummeted across the state. But recent allocations from the state and the passage of Measure N in Bakersfield have allowed new low-income housing to bounce back.

The city views the $5 million fund as just the first step in a larger plan meant to address rising costs and a lag in production. Griego estimated eight low-rent projects per year could be funded through the new allocation. That’s twice the four projects that have been funded over the last few years.

Public financing is often needed for low-income units as developers claim the high cost of state regulations dissuades private companies from developing the properties themselves.

“Without substantial government support or subsidies, you cannot deliver a single family home, or an apartment unit, at a cost where the lower-income unit can afford to pay for rent based on the cost of construction,” said Dave Dmohowski, executive officer with the Home Builders Association of Kern County.

Still, he said $5 million was “nothing to sniff at,” and it could make a significant impact if used selectively.

“The more production, the more housing units there are in the community, that acts as a buffer for extraordinary price increases,” he added.

The city will also apply for a state match to potentially double the impact of the funds. In addition to new construction, the trust can be used for the rehabilitation of existing sites and the conversion of hotels into permanent dwelling locations. Accessory dwelling units can also be funded through the trust.

While supportive of the funding, some community advocates worried about the lack of detail included with the proposal. The Leadership Counsel and Justice and Accountability praised the city’s action on Twitter while cautioning the funding must be able to address the “vast and varied housing needs.”

“I think it can begin the conversation, and it’s a good step forward, but when we think about the investment that the city makes in other resources compared to the $5 million that’s going to housing, that’s a very low investment,” said Emma De La Rosa, a policy advocate for the organization.

In a letter to the city, Leadership Counsel pushed for a citizen’s oversight committee for the funding and organizers urged the city to avoid placing new low-income housing in concentrated areas of poverty or near pollution.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.