Mixed message

Folsom to eliminate affordable-housing rules

It was a noble enough experiment, and one that developers in Folsom can’t wait to stop.

Back in 2002—because of a lawsuit by affordable-housing advocates—the city of Folsom adopted a law requiring all new residential developments to include a certain amount of low-income housing.

These “mixed income” or “inclusionary housing” rules were intended to prevent Folsom from becoming another suburban enclave for the wealthy. Cities around the country have experimented with mixed-income housing policies, trying to combat the typical pattern of economic segregation that happens in every town, where low-income citizens are stuck with shoddy housing, blighted neighborhoods and failing schools.

But on January 11, the Folsom City Council is expected to put an end to the experiment.

“The council, really under pressure from the building industry in this economic climate, said ‘We really don’t want inclusionary anymore,’” explained David Miller, community development director with the city of Folsom.

Miller explained that home builders can’t make enough profit to subsidize building affordable houses and apartments in new projects. So Miller and his staff are recommending that the city eschew the mixed-income requirement and directly subsidize building low-income apartment complexes. The money will come from development fees.

SN&R asked Miller if the city was just recycling the old idea of housing projects for the poor, but he dismissed this. “When you look at them, they’ll be no different than our market-rate rental projects,” he said.

Aside from being a burden on developers, Miller said mixed-income rules have had mixed results. “In suburban communities like Folsom,” he explained, “it tends to stigmatize the lower-priced homes and make it harder to sell the houses around them.”

But Shamus Roller, executive director of the Sacramento Housing Alliance, says ditching the inclusionary rules means excluding a big segment of the population based on income. “We want to make sure that the people who work in the service sector in Folsom—the people who work in the outlet malls and the people who clean the floors at Intel—can afford to live near to where they work,” Roller said.

He also noted that although home prices have plummeted, rents have not. And though there’s little building happening now, Folsom has long-term plans to annex and develop a big chunk of studded green space just of Highway 50—making it even more critical to have a robust affordable-housing policy.

“There’s a lot of new development planned in Folsom. It’s really important that it not all be just housing for rich people,” Roller said.