The number of houses expected to be built in Lake Elsinore over the course of the next eight years and where they will be built was the subject of a study session Tuesday night.
The session held at Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District was part of the regularly scheduled Lake Elsinore City Council meeting in which council members and the planning commission hammered out details of the Lake Elsinore "Housing Element."
The hefty draft document is required under state law to be included in the city’s General Plan. The proposed Housing Element defines and lays out the city’s housing strategies for the next eight years.
Tuesday night was somewhat of a balancing act. Based on projections that utilized 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, the city’s Housing Element draft shows the number of homes in Lake Elsinore will grow to an anticipated 21,022 units compared to 15,239 in 2010. Under the document’s definition, a home can be a house, apartment, condo, mobile home, trailer or room that serves as separate living quarters.
But who will buy those new homes? According to the Census figures reported in the Housing Element draft, more than 13 percent of the city’s households are extremely low income, 11 percent are very low income, and 17 percent are low income. The majority of households – 61 percent – report moderate income, the data show.
One of the primary goals of the Housing Element under state law is to ensure a comprehensive strategy for affordable housing, which the city is required to provide for its less affluent residents.
The task raised concerns Tuesday about how to weigh affordable housing needs against what some officials see as a need to build premier neighborhoods in Lake Elsinore to attract high-income earners to the city.
“If you build it they will come,” said Councilman Brian Tisdale. The slogan has the potential to go both ways, and Tisdale cited the recently completed Pottery Court low-income housing project in downtown Lake Elsinore as an example, which he said attracted many residents from outside the city.
Lake Elsinore should serve all its residents, but “we don’t want to be a magnet” for low-income people outside the city, Tisdale said.
Commissioner Shelly Jordan expressed concerns that the Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce was not invited to participate in the drafting of the Housing Element. Chamber President Kim Cousins has long rallied for the development of some high-income housing in Lake Elsinore for executives who might consider living in the city.
“I think it’s important they weigh in,” Jordan said.
In reviewing the Housing Element draft, Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission Mike O’Neal said he was disappointed to see so much high-density residential (apartments and condos) planned for the city’s historical downtown district.
O’Neal petitioned for a strategy that moves away from a “so-called slum model” in downtown and instead incorporates a more “integrated” approach across the city. High-density residential could be built along north-lying mining lands and in areas near the floodplains, O’Neal said.
Councilman Steve Manos also expressed concern about the image of downtown.
O’Neal acknowledged that when zoning was adopted at that time, but he cautioned that the city carefully evaluate the strategy as it pertains to the Housing Element.
Mayor Bob Magee noted O’Neal’s concerns but said the city could size up future projects on a case-by-case basis.
Planning Commission Chairman Rick Morsch said developers have shown little interest recently in building low-income housing in Lake Elsinore. City Attorney Barbara Leibold assured Morsch the city has an incentive in its back pocket. As part of the process of folding its Redevelopment Agency, the city finds itself in the unusual position of having approximately $31 million available over the next 20 years that can be loaned to potential developers who are interested in building affordable housing in Lake Elsinore, Leibold explained.
“I’m sure we will have interest,” she said, noting that Bridge Housing Corporation, which built Pottery Court, has already been in discussion about more low-income projects in the city.
Tuesday night’s suggestions will be incorporated into the Housing Element draft, which will then be forwarded to the California Department of Housing and Community Development for review. Once the city receives comments back from the state agency, the draft will head to city council for final approval.
The city wants to see the draft finalized before Oct. 15. If it meets the deadline, the Housing Element will be valid for eight years, according to city documents. If the city fails to meet that deadline, the state would require the document to be renewed again in 2017.
Hogle-Ireland Consultants was the firm hired by the city to prepare the current Housing Element draft.