Woodland has launched a fundamentally new policy and process for creation of affordable rental housing, with action at its regular meeting of May 19, 2009.

A Report To Mayor and City Council prepared by relevant City staff describes that “in the past, the City has taken a very ‘reactive’ approach to its affordable housing rental program.”

“Development of a new affordable housing project could have a significant positive impact on the City,” suggests this report.

In addition, “the recently completed Housing Element update [  ] found that there is a very low vacancy rate for units in affordable properties.”

“Staff would like to take a ‘proactive’ approach by soliciting developers for potential projects in preparation of a possible 2009 HOME funding round,” alluding to federal money for support of affordable housing. Applications for this federal support must be submitted by August 15, 2009.

“The City is looking for innovative (affordable housing projects) and experienced developers that can bring a project to completion on time and on budget,” announces outreach material, which also catalogues a “myriad” of both project criteria and development incentives.

“[T]he City of Woodland has successfully used many funding sources to produce affordable housing,” according to this outreach material. “[T]he City would be interested in using new programs, [and] is willing to apply for,” whatever programs of funding may be required for successful completion of approved projects.

___  Local Housing Development — Past & Future  ___

Previously, diverse actions of housing developers were the basic, driving force behind the creation of affordable housing, with the city responsively attempting to guide these actions in a relatively uncoordinated fashion.

“[T]his process has been driven by irregular, sporadic and chance requests. Though the projects require substantial amounts of staff time and sometimes City financial assistance, the projects are not necessarily the best project or the highest priority for the City,” explains this staff report.

“Staff has felt that many of these projects could have been improved if there were competition for the limited amount of local, state and federal funds.”

Now, a formal planning process will exist to simultaneously receive, evaluate and rank a variety of development proposals. According to city staff, this — “proactive” municipal posture — is advantageous for several key reasons, promoting values of both comprehensive planning coordination and developer competition.

“[Over the last 12 months, staff has had a noticeable increase in calls from developers soliciting City assistance for projects. This new affordable housing development “process will allow the City to fairly assess these potential projects and prioritize them in a manner that provides the greatest impact and benefit,” declares the staff report.

___  Public Sector Incentives Appreciate In Value  ___

City staff describes that recently increasing developer interest results from the ongoing recessionary climate — within which private lending is quite scarce.

This generally adverse economic environment for housing development dramatically raises the value of already valuable public housing funds, use of which demands performance / compliance on rental affordability.

Thus, the city — as conveyor of those funds, plus various other incentives — is essentially confronting a sort of — ‘buyers-market’ — with housing developers, leveraged toward achieving affordability.

This new city policy and process attempts to transform the huge, continuing — problem — of insufficient, general housing-development activity — into an opportunity — to stimulate, channel, correlate and prioritize affordable-housing development proposals, accomplishing vastly enhanced community progress and value.

City staff indicates that there are currently over a dozen inquiries from housing developers about participation within this process — several from Southern California — with the deadline for applications still several weeks away, on June 19.

A five-member selection committee comprised of one councilmember and various staff will review, rank and prioritize submitted housing development proposals — in advance of itemizing project selection for council action.

___  “Request For Proposals”  ___

Conventional in community planning processes, such as redevelopment administration, this new approach is called: “request for proposals” (RFP).

“The RFP process allows the City to solicit for projects based on set criteria that is developed internally,” relates the staff report. “It also allows the City to do an in-depth assessment on these potential projects and pick the project that will provide the City with the greatest impact.”

“This proactive approach also allows the City to have greater input on the type of housing, location, affordability levels, and whether or not it will be new construction or acquisition / rehabilitation project, and materials and design,” indicates the staff report.

Several other important advantages of this new policy exist, outlines this report. “Developers tend to be more creative in projects and financing structures when they are being compared with others,” leading to “a higher caliber of proposals.”

Staff emphasizes the key values of this competitive dynamic in best achieving municipal interests during all phases of this new development process.

“The RFP could also lay out a ‘road map’ of potential projects to assist over the next few years. Staff can analyze the responses, and rank them on [comprehensive] established criteria (e.g., acquisition / rehabilitation versus new construction), and then work on the list of preferable projects as funding comes available.”

“In addition, the RFP will allow the City to target sites and/or types of projects,” upon which it desires to focus.

“[A] list of potential sites that could be identified in the RFP” has recently been compiled through discussions with council, city management and various departments.

Another useful aspect of instant adoption of this policy is establishment of a productive time-line for — “position[ing] a project” — in anticipation of a specific (recession-related) regulatory change in the allocation format pertaining to one particular source of federal housing funds (HOME), which are administered through the state.

— “Open Canvas” For Affordable Housing Proposals  ___

“Essentially, the City is providing the developers an ‘open canvas’ in which to create housing. Seeing the majority of the City has been built out, we are looking for innovative projects that maximize density as well as integrate nicely into our existing neighborhoods.”

One portion of the ranking criteria automatically grades acquisition / rehabilitation projects higher than new construction projects (10 points to 3 points) within the overall selection system.

Another project selection factor for developers to consider is: “Benefit to the City,” through property taxes and successful accommodation with the goals of existing City housing policies and programs.

The city council is slated to award the winning proposal priority assistance for its development on June 30, 2009, based on its gaining the highest score on a criteria scale of merit points up to one hundred. This grading scale is weighted toward scrutinizing specific projects (60 possible points, with developer characteristics having 40 possible points).

Results of this RFP and subsequent evaluation will also form a relatively prioritized list of potential projects for future city consideration, assistance and action.