The lead-up to the Coastal Commission hearing on July 14 to determine the continued affordability of 161 Moro Cojo homes has become heated with CHISPA and a variety of Monterey County politicians and leaders claiming that organizations and individuals who oppose lifting the affordability deed restriction are anti-farmworker and uncaring about affordable housing. Monterey Bay Partisan readers will likely be interested that the organizations and individuals painted with this brush include the Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, LandWatch, and by implication, former North County Supervisor Marc Del Piero and many Partisan readers themselves.
You would rightfully be confused at this accusation. It has happened because last fall those organizations and individuals persuaded the Coastal Commission to not accept the January 2016 decision by the Board of Supervisors to allow the homes to be sold at market rate. Coastal commissioners discussed the letters and scheduled a de novo hearing where the affordability requirement could be discussed in depth. That’s happening on the 14th; details can be found at the end of this article.
The accusations are included in letters sent by CHISPA, and in form letters signed by Salinas Valley leaders such as Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter, Gonzales Mayor Maria Orozco, Monterey County Supervisor Simon Salinas, former Supervisor Fernando Armenta, Greenfield political figures John Huerta and Jesus Olvera-Garcia, Soledad Mayor Fred Ledesma, and the Most Reverend Richard J. Garcia, bishop of the Diocese of Monterey. As noted, they claim anti-farmworker and anti-affordable housing bias.
The irony is that those organizations and individuals charged with bias were acting to preserve affordable housing, while the organizations and individuals allegedly most interested in affordable housing are acting to convert affordable housing to market rate!
And we’re down the rabbit hole.
At issue is the affordability restriction that keeps the subsidized homes’ selling prices capped at prices affordable to future qualified low- and moderate-income buyers. That figure currently is $290,000, roughly $100,000 more than Moro Cojo homeowners originally paid. If the selling prices weren’t capped, Moro Cojo homeowners could likely profit by twice that when they sell, netting $200,000 instead of $100,000. CHISPA and 161 of the homeowners want the higher profit and they’ve persuaded Salinas Valley leaders to support them.
The issue began back in 2000-2001 when the Moro Cojo subdivision was developed as an affordable housing project. The approval process was challenged in a Coastal Commission appeal in the 1990s, and later in a lawsuit that was settled by making the 175 single-family homes permanently affordable. The subdivision includes a large park, 90 multi-family units and 175 single-family homes in the coastal zone near Castroville.
The Coastal Commission’s legal duty at the hearing will be to determine whether granting the application to terminate affordability on the 161 homes is consistent with North County Coastal Plan policies. The relevant policy is remarkably clear and simple:
“LUP Policy 4.3.6.D.1. The County shall protect existing affordable housing opportunities in the North County coastal area from loss due to deterioration, conversion, or any other reason. The County will:
a.) Discourage demolitions, but, require replacement on a one by one basis of all demolished or converted units which were affordable to or occupied by low and moderate income persons.”
And here we have another irony: Using tortured logic, the July 14 staff report claims on pages 13-16 that terminating affordability is consistent with LUP Policy 4.3.6.D.1!
Astoundingly, no replacement units are proposed. This is important. The cost to replace 161 homes at $300,000 each would exceed $48 million. The 161 Moro Cojo affordable homes currently exist. Removing the affordability restriction would help current Moro Cojo homeowners, but deprive future eligible purchasers of the chance for homeownership.
Partisan readers who want the Coastal Commission to keep the subsidized 161 Moro Cojo homes affordable should submit comments to the Coastal Commission by July 7, so commissioners will know Monterey County residents really do care about affordable housing.
If you need convincing about what a great community the affordable Moro Cojo subdivision is, drive on Castroville Boulevard just beyond North County High School. You’ll see play equipment for youngsters and a soccer field in a large public park surrounded by well kept homes. Hopefully, those homes will, as clearly intended, remain permanently affordable to future moderate- and low-income purchasers beyond July 14.
The de novo hearing is scheduled for July 14. It is agenda item 7a on the staff report.
Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or snail-mailed to Brian O’Neill at California Coastal Commission Central Coast District Office, 725 Front Street, Suite 300 Santa Cruz CA 95060. Comments should mention Project A-3-MCO-16-16-0017 and arrive by July 7.
Jane Haines is a retired lawyer and long-time advocate for affordable housing.