Sacramento’s new downtown

The Sacramento City Council is likely to approve the downtown railyards development plan this Thursday, November 10. Most of the buzz about the project has been around the proposed stadium for the Sacramento Republic soccer team.

The media has paid less attention to the amount and type of housing that will (or won’t) be built there, even though this is probably the most important part of the whole enterprise.

For this week’s installment, I interviewed two people who say that the current plan for the railyards doesn’t include enough affordable housing, or enough of any kind of housing. Earl Withycombe and Alexandra Reagan are with the Environmental Council of Sacramento. They say the project isn’t dense enough and isn’t ambitious enough about building a transit friendly, environmentally sound, inclusive urban core.

With the railyards project moving forward, we’re now also getting to see the effects of ditching Sacramento’s inclusionary housing rules last year.

Until about a year ago, the City of Sacramento had a set of rules that required new developments to include a certain amount of affordable housing. It was called the Inclusionary Housing policy and its purpose was to break down the usual patterns of economic segregation.

Under the old inclusionary rule, 15 percent of the housing units in any new development area would need to be affordable. So for the amount of housing ultimately proposed in the railyards, that would be around 1000 to 1500 new affordable units.

But as the housing market started to recover, the City decided (with a lot of encouragement from the development and building industry) to scrap the inclusionary rule. Under the new rules, the railyards developer is only committed to building 300 affordable units.

As the project builds out in later phases, the developer is obliged to donate land for some other developer to come in and develop additional affordable housing. The current plan anticipates a maximum of 600 affordable units — less than half of what the inclusionary rules would have required.

That’s important. Rising rents are driving less-affluent people out of the central city. Here we have a chance build a whole new downtown, and try to build more sustainable, more inclusive neighborhoods. But it looks like the new downtown will be mostly for the wealthy.

More reading:

City of Sacramento’s railyards project site.

How are things working out with the City’s new affordable housing rules?

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