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December 9, 2023

Guest View, Carol Marques: Housing shortage or affordability problem?

At a recent city function, a guest speaker said Anderson Dam was built in 18 months but the retrofit would take 8-10 years. It was his next comment that resonated with me: “That’s just the way it is.” I sat there thinking, nothing is just the way it is. It is what we allow it to be. 

Is there a housing shortage or an affordability issue? When a developer builds a low income apartment complex, 50% of the occupants are from outside of Gilroy. Why? It is because the rents are too high and our low and extremely low income citizens cannot afford them. If all of our citizens could afford what was being built in Gilroy, we would not have “thousands of our residents being hurt” as one councilmember proclaims. 

Cities all over the state are realizing the same problem. Can a city dictate to an apartment owner how much to charge? No. Some people believe that if we flood the market with housing, the price will go down. Not true. As long as the developer can get a market rate price, housing in our area will still be expensive. 

The character of our cities is changing rapidly with the number of units being forced on all cities in California. It is easy for legislators who do not live in that city to tell residents what their city will look like. These legislators do not have to deal with the traffic or parking issues that come with high density living. 

Why is local control important? A person buys a home or business in an area that is zoned for the purchaser’s needs. Unfortunately, our state feels it is all right to change the zoning after neighborhoods have been established. For those of you who chose single family residential, one would expect to not have a multi-family complex as your neighbor. One would also expect to not have another home built four feet from your fence line in your neighbor’s yard. However, that is exactly what recent legislation from Sacramento has allowed. 

Today, state laws override Gilroy’s previous housing regulations limiting our local control. SB9 allows a single family residential lot to be split into two primary units with a minimum of 800 square feet for each unit. An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) may be built behind one unit with a junior ADU connected to the second unit. Only one additional parking space could be added to this project. At the May 1 Council meeting, in the hopes of getting our housing element approved by the State, the Council expanded SB9 to include triplexes or fourplexes on corner lots of 8,000 square feet or larger. 

SB9 also addresses ADUs. Originally, ADUs were thought of as “granny units” for one person. Now the State allows an ADU to be 1,200 square feet, which is sometimes a four-bedroom house. The Council reduced the maximum square footage to 1,000 square feet for an ADU in Gilroy. The Council was told that even though the ADUs would help our low-income housing numbers, the owner can charge market rate rent. What happened to low income affordability? 

No parking for an apartment building is required under SB10 within a half-mile of a bus line or other means of transportation. The State assumes that everyone living in these apartments commute to work by using a mode of transportation other than a car so no parking is necessary. Under SB10, a market rate is allowed for these apartments also. Once again, are we meeting the affordability needs of people? 

Thank you to the League of California Cities and Our Neighborhood Voices (a statewide group) who continue to fight to preserve cities and local control. Cities have a general plan that lays out the direction for their city’s growth for the next 20 years. Gilroy’s 2040 General Plan allows for future development comprised of 60% single family residential and 40% more affordable multi-family housing. 

We do not want to look like many of the larger cities around us. That is why Bay Area people are moving here because of our uniqueness. Once we lose who we are, there is no going back. Huntington Beach feels the same way. They are a charter city like Gilroy and are in the process of suing the State of California over its housing element and local control. A victory would be a game changer for charter cities. 

Gilroy should never say, “That’s just the way it is.” If we are not happy with the way Gilroy is developing then we have to fight for local control. What we build today is what we must deal with in the future. 

Carol Marques is a Gilroy City Councilmember.

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