Read the Irvine Community Land Trust Q4 2019 Newsletter: New Affordable Housing, Tax Reform, Affordable Housing Conference, and More!

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  

Since I joined the ICLT, we’ve built two below-market rate apartment communities, Parc Derian and Doria, for families making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median household income; some residents earn less than 30 percent of the median income, which in Orange County is $97,900 for a family of four.

ICLT Chair Melissa Fox speaking at the groundbreaking of Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine.

Recently, we celebrated the groundbreaking for Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine. On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom.

Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

As the Orange County Register observed, these affordable communities offer “a new beginning for veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness.”

New Communities, the first modern land trust, started 50 years ago in Georgia by the descendants of slaves.

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), I have been actively working with members of the California State Legislature to enact tax reforms to make it it much easier to create affordable housing throughout California.

The new legislation, SB 196, which ICLT and I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire, and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, and which has now been signed into law by the Governor, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes.

The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.  As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”  Now that’s been changed.  Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much more practical to build more housing for more people in need.

Mark Asturias, Melissa Fox, and Leon M. Nappier at New Communities.

Last month, I traveled to Georgia with ICLT Executive Director Mark Asturias and fellow board member Leon M. Napper for the Reclaiming Vacant Properties and Grounded Solutions Conference. While we were there, we visited New Communities, the first of the modern land trusts, founded in Leesburg, Georgia, in 1969, a former plantation is now owned by the descendants of slaves and dedicated to conservation and racial reconciliation. This land trust went on to inspire the hundreds of community land trusts that exist today, ourselves included.

All of these recent events are covered in our Q4 2019 Irvine Community Land Trust Newsletter HERE.

The affordable housing we’ve created with ICLT profoundly and positively impacts the health and education outcomes for hundreds of people. That’s why I volunteer to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust. The affordable housing crisis isn’t just about buildings. We’re building communities for all the people who desperately need a place to live, including children who need a positive environment to thrive.

You can learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.  You can read about it HERE.

Leading Real Estate News Source Highlights Irvine Community Land Trust’s Role in a Enacting New Tax Reforms Expected to Fuel Affordable Housing Construction in California!

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), I have been actively working with members of the California State Legislature to enact tax reforms to make it it much easier to create affordable housing throughout California.

The new legislation, SB 196, which ICLT and I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire, and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, and which has now been signed into law by the Governor, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes. The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.  As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”

Now that’s been changed.  Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much more practical to build more housing for more people in need.

I’m very pleased that GlobeSt.com, a leading real estate news source, has written about our success.

Here is their report:

The New CA Law That Could Generate Loads of Affordable Housing
SB 196 provides a property tax exemption to affordable housing developers during construction.

By Kelsi Maree Borland

“Last week, Gavin Newsom signed a SB 196 into law, creating new opportunities for affordable housing throughout the state. The new law provides a property tax exemption for developers of affordable housing during the construction phase—the first three to five years after purchasing raw land. The legislation is expected to go a long way in fueling more affordable housing development.”

“Organizations like the Irvine Community Land Trust have been advocating for like legislation for years. ‘We have been looking at legislation to support community land trusts for many years,’ Mark Asturias, executive director of the ICLT, tells GlobeSt.com. ‘Our land trust was looking at the welfare exemption specifically because of the high property tax carry cost here in Orange County. Many people understand that the cost of land and housing is very expensive in Orange County, and in our world, we can’t carry the cost of market-rate land. Because most of our land is developed through a public partnership, we hoped to get this in place to use money to pay for the construction of new projects.'”

“Asturias anticipates that the legislation will be successful in generating more affordable housing, which the state of California desperately needs. ‘This is a wonderful opportunity for us. We are now going to be able to develop properties without paying taxes on the property at market rate while we are trying to get our entitlements in place,’ Asturias. ‘In California, it takes three to five years to get through the process from the day you buy the property to the day you can actually finish the construction of the house.'”

“The legislation does come with a caveat. Developers must start and complete their project on time, or they must pay back the taxes. ‘We talked with many people in the community land trust about how long we would need to develop vacant land. It is usually three to five years,’ Asturias says. “We didn’t want to represent to anyone as we were getting this bill put forward that we were land banking, meaning that we were going to hold vacant land and not develop it. That isn’t the mission of a community land trust, and we felt that was reasonable to put a limit on the amount of time that the exemption could be in place. That was a fair trade-off in our view.'”

“The state and Governor’s office is on a mission to combat the housing crisis, and this is only the latest piece of legislation. ‘We want to demonstrate that we can offer a variety of tools, and we believe that the Governor recognized that,’ says Asturias. ‘With all of the legislation that he is passing, we believe that he is demonstrating an effort to address the entire housing spectrum.’”

Our next affordable housing community for the Irvine Community Land Trust is 68 owner-occupied townhomes on Native Spring alongside the 133 toll road.  The ILCLT  has been under contract to buy the land from the city for four and a half years, but has held off closing escrow until the new legislation is in place, saving an estimated $600,000 in property taxes.  Now we are able to move forward immediately on this innovative and exciting project in affordable home ownership!

Learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

You can read our ICLT Newsletter HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations. Read about it HERE.

We Just Opened a New Affordable Housing Community in Irvine and Made it Easier to Create Affordable Housing Throughout California!

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  Like all Irvine Community Land Trust Board Members, I serve as a volunteer, without compensation.  

Since I joined the ICLT, we’ve built two below-market rate apartment communities, Parc Derian and Doria, for families making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median household income; some residents earn less than 30 percent of the median income, which in Orange County is $97,900 for a family of four.

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for Solarno, the Irvine Community Land Trust’s newest affordable housing community.

Last week, we celebrated the groundbreaking for Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine.

On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom. Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

As the Orange County Register observed, this affordable community will be “a new beginning for the veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness who will become its tenants when it opens next year.”

In addition, I’m excited to report on the passage of new tax break legislation I’ve been fighting for in Sacramento, which will make it much easier to create affordable housing throughout California! 

The new legislation, which I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes. The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.

As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”

Now that’s been changed.

Before the new legislation, property taxes were not adequately adjusted for below-market rate housing.  Landowners such as the ICLT that wanted to build affordable, below-market housing couldn’t get a property tax exemption until a project was underway, and county tax assessors interpreted that requirement to mean anything from shovels in the ground to tenants moving in.  In the case of Salerno in Irvine, where vacant land is assessed at approximately $4 million an acre, taxes on the land amounted to $275,000, which had to be paid before the project could be constructed.

Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much more practical to build more housing for more people in need.

Our next affordable housing community is 68 owner-occupied townhomes on Native Spring alongside the 133 toll road.  The ILCLT  has been under contract to buy the land from the city for four and a half years, but has held off closing escrow until the new legislation is in place, saving an estimated $600,000 in property taxes.  Now we are able to move forward immediately on this innovative and exciting project in affordable home ownership!

Learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

You can read our ICLT Newsletter HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations. Read about it HERE.

You Can Make a Difference: Volunteers Needed for “Point in Time” Count of People Experiencing Homelessness in South Orange County!

You can make a difference for people in need in South Orange County!

I have just learned that the Point in Time count of people experiencing homelessness in our area (South Orange County) is critically short of volunteers. 

The Point In Time is a biennial count of people experiencing homelessness on a given point in time during the last ten days in January.

The count provides vital information that helps the County better understand homelessness in the community and guides the way the County and its partners respond to homelessness in Orange County.

Orange County will be conducting the 2019 Point In Time count on Wednesday, January 23 and Thursday, January 24, 2019.

Please consider volunteering for this important community humanitarian effort!

Volunteers are needed in the following roles for a successful effort: Team Captains, Field Surveyors, Deployment Center Support, Videographers and Photographers. Volunteer opportunities are available in the early morning and late evening.

Sign up to volunteer and help shape homelessness services in Orange County!

Registering to volunteer will take less than 5 minutes.

Training will be provided!

Click to sign up today!

 

Making Affordable Housing a Reality: My Remarkable Year with the Irvine Community Land Trust!

In 2018, I was elected to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  Like all Irvine Community Land Trust Board Members, I serve as a volunteer, without compensation.

I am very proud of what we accomplished at the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT) this year!

As we all know, Irvine is among the most expensive real estate markets in the nation; for this reason there is a tremendous need for, and tremendous obstacles to, affordable housing. 

Finding solutions to the housing and homelessness crisis has been a priority for me, both as a member of the Irvine City Council and as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust.  Irvine has been a model in this area and the Land Trust concept, now being adopted by Orange County and many other cities, is something that Irvine has pioneered.  No other city has a Land Trust like we have, and other cities are working to copy ours.

Here is a short video that explains the work the Irvine Community Land Trust does to create more affordable housing in Irvine:

2018 was truly a remarkable year for the Land Trust.

In 2018, we opened Parc Derian, which brings 80 new units of housing for working families, veterans, and special-needs residents of Irvine. Located in the Irvine Business Complex, Parc Derian is a beautiful multifamily community with a pool, tot lot, private parking, exercise center, computer lab, and onsite resident services.

Designed to bring employees closer to work, it is a short walk to many jobs as well as Irvine Unified Schools, public transportation, dining and shopping options. Apartments range from one- to three bedrooms and include walk-in closets, energy-efficient appliances, assigned parking and balconies.  Parc Derian is the result of a public/private partnership between the Irvine Community Land Trust, C&C Development, Innovative Housing Opportunities (IHO), Lennar Corporation, and the City of Irvine.

Also in 2018, we began work on Salerno, a new 80-unit rental community. Like Parc Derian, Salerno will provide permanent affordable housing for working families, veterans, and special-needs residents of Irvine.

Significantly, in 2018 we began to develop our first homes for ownership with help from a new partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Orange County. This new Irvine community, called Chelsea on Native Spring, located north of Irvine Boulevard, will include 68 affordable home for sale to income-eligible veterans, working families, and young professionals.

Homes will be sold to first-time homebuyers who earn up to 120 percent of the area’s medium income. In an area where the median home price is $727,000 and average annual income is around $80,000 for a family of four, many people are priced out of the market and face housing and financial uncertainties while trying to build a life in Irvine. The Chelsea on Native Spring project aims to keep those people in Irvine, especially military veterans, teachers, nurses, and young professionals.  It is expected to begin construction in 2019.

In addition to these new projects, we continued in 2018 to provide quality housing and services to 238 households living at Alegre Apartments and Doria Apartment Homes.

In all, that’s 466 households, and more than a thousand people, who can comfortably live, work and raise families in Irvine directly because of the work of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

In 2018, I traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to represent the Irvine Community Land Trust at a national conference on affordable housing and traveled to Sacramento, where we moved forward to convince the California Legislature to remove tax barriers to creating permanent affordable housing, meaning that more affordable housing could be built in California. We expect that this year we will have the support we need to pass the legislation and I am again making the trip to Sacramento to secure more affordable housing in our state.

It should also be noted that in 2018, the Irvine Community Land Trust became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. This development was envisioned as eventual in the City’s initial 2006 plan for the Land Trust, which states that the trust shall become self-sustaining and independent after it attains 200 affordable housing units. That threshold was crossed in 2017, and the Irvine Community Land Trust now owns more than 200 homes in three Irvine communities.

The move to become independent from the City of Irvine is designed to make it easier for donors and strategic partners to contribute materials, services, and funds on a tax-free basis, therefore increasing the resources that the Irvine Community Land Trust has to create more affordable housing.

The City of Irvine and its residents also benefit from the separation due to the financial savings in regard to staff salary and office space, which will no longer be provided by the City.

As ICLT Executive Director Mark Asturias explained, becoming legally independent from the City “is a tremendous win-win for both the Land Trust and the citizens of Irvine.  We can operate more efficiently and with less reliance on taxpayers, and we can apply a greater focus on our core mission – to provide high-quality affordable housing to the community.”

Moreover, in the interest of maintaining transparency and community engagement, the Irvine Community Land Trust, on my motion, has voluntarily opened all meetings to the public.  The open session format will allow members of the community to come, hear and be heard on programs and projects being implemented by the Land Trust Board.

Through this meeting format the Land Trust Board hopes to generate community interest and support for its programs, and foster collaboration on its mission to build quality affordable housing for Irvine residents.

I have also called for a City Council vote to apply the City’s Sunshine Ordinance to all non-profit agencies that receive significant funding from the City of lrvine.

Accordingly, for the January 8, 2019 City Council meeting, I have requested a presentation from City staff followed by discussion and direction from the City Council, regarding the application of the City’s Sunshine Ordinance to all non-profit entities in the community that receive significant funding from the City. Please come to the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, to discuss this important matter.

Stay tuned to this blog, as well as the Land Trust’s newly launched Facebook and Linkedin pages, for more information on our progress in creating affordable housing.

2019 promises to be even more positive and exciting!

 

My Response to the Grand Jury Report on Housing Orange County’s Homeless: Irvine Offers Leadership in Providing Real Solutions for the Homelessness Crisis

Finding solutions to the homelessness crisis has been a priority for me, both as a member of the Irvine City Council and as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

At our recent Irvine City Council meeting on August 26, 2018, the City Council was presented with our city staff’s response to the Orange County Grand Jury Report “Where There’s Will, There’s a Way — Housing Orange County’s Chronically Homeless.”

Councilmember Melissa Fox preparing to lead a meeting of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

Following the staff presentation, I made the following remarks, which I’d like to share with you here:

“Thank you very much for a terrific response.

I did feel that there needs to be some additional information in the response, however, and Mayor Wagner touched on much of it, in particular the $29.2 million that we’re putting aside, as well as land, and the additional permanent supportive housing, potentially as many as 80 units, which we are set to break ground on in the very near future with the Irvine Community Land Trust.

In addition, there’s another project stacked right behind the first project for the Land Trust, which will be unique in that it will provide an ownership for affordable housing, and all of this backed by services, so we will be creating permanent, supportive housing.

Irvine has been a model in this area, and what I think the Grand Jury, and even our own response misses, is that the Land Trust concept is something that Irvine has pioneered.

No other city has a Land Trust like we have, and other cities are working to copy ours. Our executive director is a national leader, and we have a great deal of experience in the Land Trust area, so I think what we have best to contribute to the ACC-OC (Association of California Cities – Orange County) and a potential Joint Powers Agreement is leadership.

In Irvine, we don’t need an additional Land Trust.  We already have one, and we paved the way, and we already have a vehicle to receive the funds that are ready to come forward from the State. The reason that the Joint Powers Agreement for a Land Trust for the County needed to be created is that the County didn’t have one.  In Irvine, we already did.

And so I would notify, and let the Grand Jury know, that we could be of assistance and leadership in this area.  Our executive director for the Irvine Community Land Trust, Mark Asturias, is an executive director of the national Land Trust Alliance, and so he’s leading the way.

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox speaking with homeless people at the former Riverbed encampment with Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silva, Huntington Beach Councilmember Billy O’Connell, and Santa Ana Councilmember Michele Martinez.

I also want to comment on the allegation of NIMBYism in Irvine, which I thought was very pejorative and unfair.

Irvine has never said we don’t want to help homeless people in our community. Rather, we’ve said we’ll be the first to form this Land Trust and move forward with it.

So just last year, Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson-Norris and I traveled with ACC-OC to San Antonio to look at what was really an exceptional program (Haven for Hope) helping the homeless community in San Antonio that has been held up as a model.  We went with many other stakeholders. One thing we learned on that trip was that neighbors are important.  And it was very important for the success of this homeless shelter in San Antonio to be located in a community that their services also served, to prevent the community members from becoming homeless.  So the shelter has to be located in an area where the neighborhood is receptive, and sees it as a benefit because they’re providing social services to the neighborhood, they’re providing schooling, they’re providing medical clinics, they’re providing dental services, and so on.

Location is very important, and what we heard our residents in Irvine saying is that there was a problem with placing homeless people in tents adjacent to the Great Park as proposed by the Board of Supervisors.  And, in addition, what Irvine residents and the Irvine City Council said is that human beings should not be housed in tents with no water, no electricity, and no transportation.

So, I think to denigrate Irvine and the residents who came together as not compassionate and full of NIMBY sentiment is absolutely incorrect, and we need to put forward that our residents came together, not only to say that they were opposed to the County’s tent city plan for a homeless shelter, but they literally hired their own attorneys to put together solution packages, and they came to the same conclusions that the experts did, that you must have permanent supportive services that go along with the housing.

They weren’t just saying we don’t want it here, they said we want to help fix this program, and I think we can reach out to that same group to work with us on this issue.

I have also traveled to Sacramento and worked with many of our legislators to increase the number of units that we can move forward with under the Land Trust by creating legislation (Senate Bill 1056) that would give us favorable tax treatment.

And so I think we have a lot to teach the cities that haven’t done this kind of work.  We blazed that path, and I’d like this report to make that clear, especially the work that the Irvine Community Land Trust has done, that prior city councils have invested in this, and that the Mayor himself has expended countless hours in looking forward to a solution, and I think that at the very least, the Mayor’s comments should be incorporated as a preface to our response.”

You can read the Orange County Grand Jury Report “Where There’s Will, There’s a Way — Housing Orange County’s Chronically Homeless,” and the original proposed response of the City of Irvine here.

 

My Trip to Sacramento to Advocate for OC Cities and Affordable Housing

I recently joined other Orange County elected officials on the annual Local Government Advocacy Trip to Sacramento with the Association of California Cities — Orange County (ACC-OC), meeting with state elected officials, department directors, and executive staff to advocate for positions on bills, discuss  Orange County’s regional priorities, and represent the voice of Orange County cities.

Among the issues we discussed were building more affordable housing, increased regulation and better supervision of sober living homes, solutions for homelessness, and reforms of the sales tax.

Among the state officials and legislators that I met with were California State Controller Betty T. Yee, Board of Estimate Member Fiona Ma, Senator Jim Beall (Chair, Senate Housing Committee), Senator John Moorlach (37th Senate District, which includes portions of Orange County), Senator Steve Glazier (Senate Committee on Jobs and Economic Development), Senator Scott Weiner (Senate Housing Committee), Assemblymember David Chiu (Assembly Housing Committee), and Susan Bransen (Executive Director, California Transportation Commission).

Melissa Fox with Dirissy Doan (Orange County Assn of Realtors) and Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva (D- AD 65) in Sacramento.

Following the ACC-OC trip, I remained in Sacramento to attend the Housing California Annual Conference and to meet with legislators on behalf of the Irvine Community Land Trust, of which I am the Vice Chair.

The Irvine Community Land Trust (ICTL) was created by the City of Irvine to provide secure, high-quality affordable housing through the operation of a non-profit community land trust, securing and retaining title to land on which permanently affordable rental, ownership and special needs housing will be constructed and maintained for the benefit of income-eligible families.

The vision of the ICLT is that by the year 2025, the ICLT will have created approximately 5,000 units of permanently affordable housing in the City of Irvine, contributing more than 50 percent of the City’s 2025 goal of 9,700 affordable units. In addition, the ICLT will conduct a monitoring program and provide stewardship for these units, insuring high-quality construction, design, sustainability, maintenance and permanent affordability. ICLT will achieve self-sufficiency by ensuring that fees and other earned income are sufficient to support the organization’s ongoing operating costs.

On behalf of the Irvine Community Land Trust, I meet with Senator Janet Nguyen, Senator Ricardo Lara, Senator John Moorlach, Senator Jim Beall, Senator Bob Hertzberg, Assembly Member Steven Choi, Assembly Member Matt Harper, and Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silva about legislation to make it easier to build more affordable housing.

I believe we are making significant progress in creating a more supportive legislative environment for building affordable housing.  Everyone I spoke to in Sacramento — on both sides of the aisle — is keenly aware of California’s severe housing shortage and our state’s growing housing insecurity and homelessness crisis.

I was happy to work with my colleagues in both the ACC-OC and the Irvine Community Land Trust to advocate for legislative reforms that will make it easier to build affordable housing in California, and specifically in Orange County.