Letter to the Nevada City Council Regarding The Bungalows Housing Development

July 12, 2017

July 12, 2017
Evans Phelps, Mayor
317 Broad Street
Nevada City, CA 95959

Dear Mayor Phelps,

I write to you on behalf of two local organizations. The FREED Center for Independent Living is a resource center for people with disabilities and older adults residing in Nevada, Sierra, Yuba, Sutter, and Colusa Counties. Access to affordable, accessible housing is one of our main focus areas. I am the Disability Community Advocate for FREED.

Tenants of Nevada County was formed in response to the application for approval of The Grove housing project. We are made up of young people, many who grew up here and have returned, others who have come to make a home here and contribute to the life of this place. We need affordable housing and see a greater community need to meaningfully respond to the ongoing housing crisis. We are committed to working on this issue for the long-term. I am a Core Organizer with Tenants of Nevada County.

As you know, The Bungalows housing development is being proposed at 601 Searls Avenue, Nevada City. The proposal was approved by the Nevada City Planning Commission on June 15, 2017 and now is before the City Council. We very much support new housing development and are here to call for more truly accessible housing in Nevada City.

Similar to The Grove project, this developer, Steve Bowden, is circumventing the requirement in Nevada City’s 2014-2019 Housing Element that 30% of all new homes in subdivisions be affordable to moderate- and low-income individuals and families by proposing that the units will be “Affordable by Design.”

The Housing Element states: “Thirty percent of all homes located in new subdivisions shall be 1,500 square feet or smaller. These homes shall be affordable to moderate and below income households. This shall be accomplished through deed restrictions or through an affordable housing plan that includes moderate and below income housing opportunities accomplished through a variety of mechanisms including, but not limited to, size restrictions, rental units, second units, etc.” We commend the City for this language in the Housing Element and ask you to uphold your commitment to assuring that there is access to affordable housing in the City.

The developer is claiming that the inexpensive materials he plans to use, the small size of the units, the proximity to downtown Nevada City, and the cost savings achieved from the sustainable design, will offset both the eventual purchase price and the eventual rental price of the homes he wants to build. FREED and Tenants of Nevada County reject this claim.

Regarding the developer’s proposal, we note that:

1. The developer has not provided any figures for the expected rental price and/or the expected sale price of these units. Without such figures, we can only speculate and do not actually know whether the eventual rental and sale prices will be affordable.

2. The developer has not provided any figures for the expected monthly savings on utilities he claims will be achieved as a result of the energy efficient design of these units. Without such figures, we can only speculate and do not actually know whether the eventual rental and sale prices will be affordable.

3.The fact that this development would be within walking distance of local businesses and public transportation is circumstantial and should not be used as a justification of affordability.

We note that this is the second “Affordable by Design” proposal that has come before the City in recent months. We would like to hear from the City Council whether you think that this “Affordable by Design” model actually meets the needs of moderate- and low-income residents of Nevada County seeking affordable housing in Nevada City. The need for more affordable and accessible housing in our City is clear. We would like to hear from the City Council what strategies can be pursued to expand access to affordable and accessible housing in Nevada City.

One solution is the formation of housing cooperatives. Tenants of Nevada County has started steps towards incorporating a non-profit Limited Equity Housing Cooperative (LEHC) which could purchase built units or raw land and then develop it, assuring affordability in perpetuity. An LEHC takes the responsibility of enforcing and monitoring the affordability requirements away from the developer, homeowner’s association, or the City.

Additionally, while we understand that per CBC Chapter 11A, one of the units of The Bungalows must be accessible and while we understand that all six units have the same floorplan and therefore all would be accessible, at least on the interior, we request copies of the floorplans when they become available so that we can work with the City and the developer to ensure that the accessibility standards are met.

During the last Housing Element cycle, FREED requested that the Element include provisions requiring that 30 percent of all new housing units be designed with “Universal Design” principles. We continue to call for this in order to increase the number of housing units available to meet the needs of people with disabilities in Nevada City.

Thank you for your attention to this very important issue facing Nevada City. We look forward to hearing your responses.


Carl Sigmond
Disability Community Advocate, FREED
Core Organizer, Tenants of Nevada County

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