Commentary | Piedmont should tap its $2.2 million allocation of county bonds for multifamily affordable housing

There is a growing understanding among many Piedmonters of the desirability of creating affordable housing in our city. If the “carrot” of building a more diverse and equitable community is not enough, there is a “stick”: the state-mandated goal to plan for 257 units of very-low-income and low-income housing in the next decade, which is part of a total 587 units the city has been assigned in the next Housing Element.

Planning for over 250 units of affordable housing will require Piedmont to expand its toolkit beyond the accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that the city has relied on to meet past, lower housing targets. Traditional multifamily affordable housing is the most effective–and the only realistic–way of meeting the city’s new affordable housing goals. 

Fortunately, there are financial resources available to help us succeed. In 2016 voters in Alameda County approved Measure A1, a bond measure that gives each city an allocation to create affordable rental housing. Piedmont’s pot is $2.2 million. This is money just waiting to be used.

We are a group of affordable housing professionals, housing policy experts, and supporters of affordable housing who live in Piedmont. Since October 2020, we have been studying Measure A1 and meeting with County and City staff and officials about the best use of the city’s A1 funds. We believe the answer is clear: The City should use its Measure A1 funds to leverage state and federal tax-credit funds, and partner with an affordable housing provider to build 100% affordable multifamily housing on city-owned land. 

Why is this the best use of Piedmont’s Measure A1 funds? 

  1. Measure A1 is expressly designed to enable cities to leverage local resources to unlock additional state and federal funding. It’s no accident that every other jurisdiction has used their A1 funds in this way. Albany, for example, is tapping its similar ($2.3 million) allocation to build over 60 units of affordable housing on city-donated land. By leveraging additional state and federal funding, $2.2 million can go quite far–we estimate it could be used to build 40-70 new homes.
  1. Measure A1 requires that the units created are affordable for a minimum of 55 years, and that 20% of the units be affordable to extremely low-income households. While ADUs are already being built in Piedmont and will continue to be built, only deed-restricted, professionally managed multifamily affordable housing can guarantee the long-term availability of housing for low-income households and units large enough to accommodate families.
  1. It’s the right thing to do. Our City leaders have stated that Piedmont wants to be part of the solution to our regional housing crisis, and to become a more diverse and inclusive community. This is an opportunity for the City to show leadership in this effort by affirmatively supporting affordable multifamily housing construction in Piedmont.

An ad hoc sub-committee of the Planning Commission has been meeting since March to research and recommend a plan for using Measure A1. We encourage the committee to recommend that the City Council take the following next steps, which could happen concurrently: first, hire a consultant to help identify the most viable city-owned sites for affordable housing development; second, solicit community input and undertake outreach and engagement to build support for affordable housing; third, commit to using Piedmont’s Measure A1 funds to build multifamily affordable housing on city-owned land; and fourth, begin the steps to add affordable multifamily housing as a permissible use on public land (Zone B).

We acknowledge that constructing an affordable multifamily rental housing development in Piedmont will bring about change in the community–change that we believe is both welcome and necessary. Fortunately, there is a well-established path and a strong affordable housing industry experienced in navigating all the steps in this process. The City need not have this expertise; the City only needs to demonstrate the leadership and political will to pursue this path. 

In taking these steps, we will be taking a huge step toward achieving our City-wide goals to welcome economic and racial diversity to our community.  

Yours truly,

Meghan Bennett
Jessica Berg
Tam Bui
Brett Byers
Moira Chapman
Irene Cheng
Elise Marie Collins
Linda Cuckovich
Mike Cvet
Frances Fisher
Yusef Freeman
Carol Galante
Jim Govert
Ellen Greenberg
Amy Griffith
Russ Griffith
David Hobstetter
Beth Hughes
Sarah Karlinsky
Dhira Khosla
Diana Lee
JinAh Lee
Deborah Leland
Hanna Lin
Jane Lin
Jill Lindenbaum

Arthur Liou
Fontane Lo
Linda Roodhouse Loper
Hugh Louch
Michael Lucaccini
Daniel Luskin
Andy Madeira
Ted Miguel
David Oppenheimer
Claire Parisa
Rebecca Posamentier
Kartik Ramakrishnan 
Alison Reed
Sharon Robinson
Andrea Ruiz-Esquide
Derek Sagehorn
Ross Simkover
Brett Snyder
Benjamin Spohn
Susie Struble
Alice Talcott
Tom Webster
Aron Weisner
Emmy Weisner
Randy Wu

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual signers and do not represent the viewpoints of their affiliated organizations.

15 thoughts on “Commentary | Piedmont should tap its $2.2 million allocation of county bonds for multifamily affordable housing

  1. Thank you so much on your leadership in this important issue. I’m so excited by the prospect of the Piedmont community becoming more inclusive and welcoming as a result of affordable housing.

  2. Allow and encourage affordable smaller homes by reducing the minimum required lot size from 8,000 sf down to 6,000 or 5,000. Of the c. 3850 SF homes in town, about 45% are on lots smaller than 6,000 and 1,080 or 28% are on lots smaller than 5,000.

    Continuing the minimum 8,000 SF lot size in Zone A, where most residential properties exist, prevents the City from a adopting a painless way to satisfy about half the RHNA requirement. This is not a zoning change as no change of use is anticipated.

    • This is a great idea. The city should look at this and other ideas – use an “all tools in the toolbox” approach to remove obstacles to housing production. That includes reducing minimum lot sizes as well as allowing more units per lot, etc. The new Regional Housing Needs Allocation and the upcoming Housing Element update present great opportunities to study all potential avenues in depth, and adopt those that make most sense.

      • Andrea, Thank you and perhaps your committee will take this up in conjunction with your Zone B efforts. Reducing minimum lot size still allows, without Design Review, an attached and a detached ADU on each lot. This alone significantly increases housing potential and with the smaller homes there can also be smaller ADUs and Junior ADUSs which may largely satisfy Piedmont’s RHNA requirements.

        • Rick -I think the Assembly just passed a bill allowing two homes on single home lots. Will now move to Senate and Governor. I haven’t read the bill – does anyone know if it is ministerial like the ADA law? If this bill becomes law it would seem to have a significant impact on Piedmont’s housing element. Maybe a pause is in order.

          • If the bill is signed into law, that’s a game changer. The FAR (Floor area ratio) local control is still in effect for given lot sizes so new construction should remain reasonable and help maintain the character of Piedmont.

  3. I’m confused because the Piedmontishome website currently says this in the FAQ:

    + What does “Multi-family” mean?
    Multi-family housing means apartment buildings, including triplexes and four-plexes or more. Multi-family housing is permitted in zone C in Piedmont. Multi-family housing is also permitted in Zone D as part of a mixed-use development with ground floor commercial uses.

    Has the City Attorney issued a new opinion on which zones in Piedmont can currently have multi-family housing and the website hasn’t been updated?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Mary, The website is correct. Multifamily is currently allowed in Zones C and D. (Shelters, transitional, emergency, and supportive housing–i.e. limited, short-term forms of “multifamily” are permitted in Zone B – public facilities.) I believe all the sites in Zones C and D currently have buildings on them and/or are privately owned, so it would be hard to build affordable housing there. For this and other reasons, most of the affordable housing experts have told us that building on publicly owned land (Zone B) is the most viable direction. To build multifamily in Zone B would require a zoning change, one that–per the city attorney’s recent statements–could be made by City Council rather than requiring a citywide ballot measure. Hope that helps clarify.

  4. For several of these changes, I believe the City Charter requires a vote of Piedmont residents, namely the use of public land (Zone B) for multi-family housing. At at a recent update on the Housing Element, the City Attorney said that no such vote was contemplated to implement the plan. Do any of the signers have insight to this question – would the use of public lands for multi family housing be considered a re-zoning that would require a vote by Piedmont residents?

    • That’s an important question. The Charter requires a vote of the people to reduce, enlarge, or reclassify a zone. Chapter 17 explains that this means a vote is required to “change the zone boundaries, or change (reclassify) a property from one zone to another.”

      Allowing affordable multi family housing in Zone B would not constitute a change in zone boundaries, or a change or reclassification of a property from one zone to another. Currently Zone B allows residential uses (specifically, a single family home, accessory dwelling units, emergency shelters, supportive housing and transitional housing). (See section 17.22). Thus, multi family housing in Zone B would be an intensification of currently permitted residential uses, not a reclassification of property or a change in zone boundaries. Therefore, it would not require a vote of the people, but instead could be done by a rezoning ordinance adopted by the duly elected city council. That was the opinion of the City Attorney, and it is an opinion firmly rooted in the plain language of the Charter and the Code.

      • Thanks Andrea. I’ll take a look at the code and chapter. Couple of questions. Going on memory there are 4 zones in Piedmont A (municipal) B (residential) C (estate) and D (houses of worship). Sounds like your proposal does not apply to Zone C which is technically residential. Is that correct? There is currently a multi-family area in Piedmont – is that included in Zone B?

        • Hi Garrett, Piedmont’s current zones are:

          A – Single Family Residential
          B – Public Facilities
          C – Multi-Family Residential
          D – Commercial and Mixed-Use Commercial/Residential
          E – Single Family Residential Estate

          We are advocating that the City explore building multifamily housing in Zone B (Public Facilities). Doing so would require a zoning code change, but one that (per Andrea’s analysis above, and the statements of Piedmont’s city attorney) could be made by a vote of the City Council and would not require a citywide ballot measure. A robust process including community input and planning studies would have to be carried out before making any such change, of course. We want them to open the door to that process.

  5. It would be great to zone any larger lots left in Piedmont above Bonita and below highway 13 as multifamily. That would be an equitable way to help meet the goal.

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