So far so good? Checking in on the new Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities program

For a long time, advocates have called for more funding to support climate-friendly development, and now, with the new Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program, it’s here. (Hooray!) The program funds compact development near public transit, so that by reducing the need to drive, we reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

“Lessons learned” workshops

So how’s it going so far? Last week and this week, the Strategic Growth Council held workshops to reflect on and learn from the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program’s inaugural year.

Take Action: You can still make comments! For more info, visit the SGC website here  and email your comments to ahsc@sgc.cs.gov

ClimatePlan staff attended the Sacramento workshop, and we were glad to see a broad range of people there, from agency and Metropolitan Planning Organization representatives, to local and statewide advocates, planners, and building developers. We heard lots of comments — it was a detailed and productive discussion.

By the numbers

Here are some of the stats we heard about the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program so far:

– 28 projects approved, at or near “shovel-ready” status
– 723,286 metric tons in avoided greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to removing 140,000 cars from the road for one year
– 2,003 new affordable units near transit
– $32 million for transit, biking & walking
– $92 million to benefit Disadvantaged Communities

Exciting stuff!

The program is not perfect. (More on that below.) And sure, we’d like to see everything higher by an order of magnitude or two. But these numbers are a good start, and the workshops are another good step forward, to make the program’s next round even better.

It’s complicated

By the time of the workshop, the list of concerns that the council had already received was so comically lengthy that Chair, Ken Alex spent 10 minutes just listing them off before getting started. (If the goal was to express the vast complexity of this program, mission accomplished!)

Here are some of the main recommendations to improve the program:

– Connect better to SB 375 strategies
– Revisit modeling and scoring (CalEEMOD)
– Increase flexibility in geographic distribution and diversity
– Address jurisdiction and developer caps
– Increase technical assistance and training
– Address rural issues: distribution, density standards, and technical assistance
– Reexamine GHG quantification methods
– Balance the types of projects
– Improve collaboration and integration of transit, housing, and active transportation in planning
– Increase incentives for active transportation: walking and biking

It’s a lot. But it’s important to remember how new this all still is; we’re all learning together.

This is a new way of thinking, and we all need to get better at it. We need to get better at prioritizing “co-benefits”—like equity and public health improvements, and water and land conservation—along with GHG reduction. We need to get better at connecting housing development with public transit and biking and walking. We need to get better at balancing rural and urban community priorities.

But we can do all this. Especially if we better align the program with SB 375.

Help make it better

Even if you missed the workshops, you can still make comments! Information is at http://sgc.ca.gov/s_ahscprogram.php, where you can see the materials from the workshops.
Written public comments are due July 31. Email yours to ahsc@sgc.cs.gov.

For more on the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program, check out our partner TransForm’s excellent summary, and here’s more info on the first round of grants.

What happens next

Early this fall, draft guidelines for round two of the grants will be released, based on feedback from the workshops and comments. In late fall, there will be stakeholder discussions throughout the state. Final guidelines should follow in winter, and then the SGC will announce how much funding will be available for the next round. Stay tuned!

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