WATSONVILLE — There was little question whether Watsonville City Council would approve the 2018 Housing Element Annual Report at Tuesday night’s meeting — it unanimously voted yes following a brisk two-hour session — but the annual update did generate several questions and concerns about the City’s progress.
According to the report, Watsonville has fallen behind its eight-year Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) goals sanctioned by the state, though it is keeping pace with Santa Cruz County as a whole.
The City was 26 percent of the way to meeting its mark at the end of last year, the third year of the cycle. The County, meanwhile, fulfilled 29 percent of its RHNA goal.
“In a perfect world,” said Watsonville Community Director Suzi Merriam, the City would be roughly a third of the way toward its goal.
Watsonville is responsible for issuing building permits for 700 units by 2023, or it could face legal or financial repercussions from state leaders, according to council members.
Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker said the City has made a solid case against any potential lawsuit over the first three years of the cycle.
“We have a very strong defensive argument to show that we have been making great progress on it,” Huffaker said.
Twelve building permits were issued for housing units last year, and 74 permits were finalized.
Fifty-four of those finalized permits were for The Terrace, an upscale apartment complex in downtown Watsonville, and the other 20 were for Pippin Orchards, an affordable housing apartment community on 56 Atkinson Lane.
Of those 74 finalized permits in 2018, only 19 were deed restricted by income level — nine for “extremely low” and 10 for “very low.”
Additionally, six applications for housing units were submitted for planning permits last year, and four of those applications were approved for 153 units. The other two — an additional 25 units — are still under review by the planning division.
Though the City kept pace with the County in its overall RHNA percentage, it was well behind in the “low” and “moderate” categories. The county reached 19 percent of its “low” and 73 percent of its “moderate” marks, compared to Watsonville’s five percent and nine percent, respectively.
That, Merriam hopes, will change following the recent addition of housing manager Carlos Landaverry, a former housing planner for the County.
“Now that we have [Landaverry] I’ll be able to pick his brain a little more and see how they were able to accomplish that,” Merriam said. “Maybe there’s some tweaks we can make.”
Merriam also presented an updated construction timeline for major housing projects.
Blackbird Townhomes on 35 Harkins Slough finalized last month. Marin Street Townhomes on 1205 Freedom Blvd. is set to begin construction this year, and is expected to finish up sometime in 2020. Both Hillcrest Estates — formerly Sunshine Vista — and 221 Airport Blvd. will begin building next year, though the latter is expected to be done in 2022 and the former is set for a 2024 completion date. Sunshine Garden, a stone’s throw from Hillcrest Estates off Ohlone Parkway, will wrap up in 2021, the same year 655 Rodriguez is slated to start its one-year building process.
Over the course of the year, the City hopes to open new avenues for housing by drafting a farmworker housing ordinance with its local partners.
It also hopes to restructure its down payment assistant loans and work harder to inform the public about its first time homebuyer loans. Roughly 300 people attended three neighborhood outreach and education meetings about the programs last year, and the City received 90 inquires about the loans, but only three prospective residents were approved.