At the Galt Planning Commission meeting Thursday, Feb. 11, commissioners gave feedback and ideas on items pertaining to the Housing Element update project. Staff presented commissioners with current zoning maps, and gave an initial outlook of what future uses could look like in order to satisfy new state housing mandates.

According to the new state and Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) mandates, the city of Galt must provide zoning for 1,926 new homes during the 2021-29 Housing Element – 404 of which need to be allocated for very low income, 243 for low income, 379 for moderate income and 900 for above moderate income. The 1,926 housing unit increase would boost Galt’s housing inventory by 31%, if all units were built in that eight-year period; 34% of those new homes will need to be in the low income categories.

The 31% increase is the second highest being asked of municipalities within Sacramento County. Only Rancho Cordova has been asked to provide a greater percentage of homes to their inventory, 34%. Folsom will be required to increase housing units by 24%, Elk Grove by 13%, the city of Sacramento by 8% and Isleton by 7%.

City staff and advising consultants told commissioners that the two low-income categories are usually the hardest to find suitable land for, due to other requirements. Low income housing cannot be placed in proximity to highways and railroads without higher costs for sound mitigation and need to be placed near services, to “ensure people with lower incomes have equal access to all the amenities and great things that everyone else in the city has access to.”

And, although not part of the requirement, getting low-income housing built is difficult, unless there are significant subsidies provided to mitigate the costs of construction. According to staff, subsidies are few and far between.

“Our obligation is to provide the opportunity, our obligation is to provide the land, whether or not it builds, or whether somebody is able to get grant funding from the federal or state level. The only thing we can do is provide densities,” Community Development Director Craig Hoffman told commissioners.

Unlike other parts of a general plan, cities need to get the certification from the state that their housing element meets all the requirements of state law. The city of Galt has until May to submit a draft plan and then has 60 days thereafter to negotiate with the state over that plan before submitting and adopting a final Housing Element, according to staff.

Hoffman told commissioners that staff can identify roughly 27.5 acres of land that can be or already is designated R4 or high density/low income; however, an additional 5.5 acres needs to be established to meet the 647 new low income housing unit requirement.

“I think there’s certain areas within town we could find that,” Hoffman said, “but I think we are going to be looking to up zone property.”

Part of that solution can come from two ideas, ideas that planning commissioners encouraged staff to pursue. Those two ideas are mixed use, similar to Galt Place on Fourth Street, and accessory dwelling units.

Hoffman said staff has identified several locations that could possibly be designated mixed use. The first is 16 acres on Simmerhorn and the second is just over 14 acres just west of the Dry Creek Oaks senior development, both designated commercial at this time, as well as property along Crystal Way.

And, although that land could be designated mixed use, only a small percentage could be counted toward the high density/low income requirement. Just how much would need to be negotiated with the state?

“If they let us use the methodology of about 25%, we could potentially get almost three and a half to four acres of multifamily calculation there (Simmerhorn and Dry Creek Oaks),” Hoffman said. “And then we have talked about potentially taking that entire industrial piece along Crystal Way and turning that into something that captures the highway traffic, whether it be a highway commercial, but maybe there’s a potential somewhere in there to have some additional mixed use.”

The second idea that commissioners want staff to pursue is checking to see if accessory dwelling units (ADU) can be used to help check the low income housing box.

Hoffman said that staff would discuss using ADUs as part of the low-income housing requirements with the state.

“An ADU program is one way that you can provide lower income rentals,” Hoffman said. “If you were to put up a 600-square-foot unit in the backyard, that might be a way you can get a lower income unit.”

However, Hoffman said that a small ADU is beneficial to a small family unit of one to possibly four people, but larger families need housing, too.

“When we do these, we have to look at all aspects of what the population and the housing demand is,” Hoffman said. “One of the special housing classes is considered to be large families. We’re talking about a rental for family of four, but if you had a family of six – you’re not really fitting into a 600-square-foot ADU in the back of somebody’s house, at least not comfortably.”

According to the state, a family of four with an income of $21,950 a year is considered extremely low income, $36,550 very-low income, $58,500 low income and $87,750 moderate income.

The state wants housing for each of those income categories; however, what each of them can afford for a monthly rent or mortgage is difficult to find here in Galt, especially in the extremely low and very low-income categories.

According to the state, a family in the extremely low-income category can afford a monthly rent/mortgage of $549, very low income $914, low income $1,463 and moderate $2,194.

Commissioners strongly encouraged staff to pursue the ADU idea to help with the low-income housing unit requirements.

“They’re (ADUs) permitted by right throughout California so I think it really goes back to methodology. What will they let us count?” Hoffman said. “We haven’t had a large amount of ADUs built here in Galt. I mean, people see these as being an opportunity, whether it’s for family, whether it’s for income, just as a different housing product, but this is a community with 10,000-square-foot lots, as a community with 8,000-square-foot lots, 6,500-square-foot lots. I see it as a major opportunity for people that are aging and want their parents closer to them, but maybe not in the same unit. And, you know it could be 10 steps away, or maybe even attached to the house for that matter. It’s something that we’re going to see more of. It’s just, how do we count it? I think it might be the question.”