As Redwood City continues to grow and the construction boom shows no signs of slowing down, residential development appears to be keeping pace with demand — but not at all levels of affordability. 

Redwood City has exceeded its Regional Housing Needs Allocation target for above-market rate units for the current RHNA cycle, which spans from 2014 to 2023, but is far from satisfying its affordable housing goal, according to the city’s annual housing report, which was recently submitted to the state. 

To meet its affordable housing goal, Redwood City must construct 502 moderate-, 372 low- and 699 very-low-income units by the end of 2023 when the cycle ends.

For “above moderate” units, Redwood City has permitted 1,645 units to date, nearly 500 units more than its 1,152-unit goal by 2023.

In 2017, the city issued building permits for just 36 total units, all at the low-income level, according to the report. That number is well below the total number of units permitted in Redwood City each year since 2014, but is also the city’s most productive year since then in terms of affordable housing.

Assistant City Manager Aaron Aknin said the unusually low number of building permits issued in 2017 is a matter of timing as the approval process can last up to a year, and not an indication that housing development is stalling. 

The city entitled more than 750 units in 2017, but none of those projects had been issued building permits by the time the housing report was submitted, according to a staff report.

As for 2018, staff expects “high numbers” of building permits to be issued, according to the report. 

“There’s still a lot of interest in residential development,” he said, adding that “quite a few units” are under construction. But he also said the city is seeing fewer development applications downtown as it nears the precise plan cap.

Each of the 36 units permitted in 2017 are accessory dwelling units, which by RHNA standards are counted as “non-deed restricted” low-income units, according to the report.

Construction of accessory dwelling units has been encouraged by recent revisions in their building requirements. 

Kris Johnson, a longtime Redwood City resident who has been outspoken on housing and development issues, said 52 of the 59 affordable units approved in Redwood City from 2016-2017 are ADUs, many of which are not so affordable. 

He referenced an ADU on Arlington Avenue approved two years ago that charges $150 a night and one on Iris Street charging $180 a night that are counted as affordable.

“It is our job as a city to provide housing opportunities for all levels of affordability and we’re not doing that right now,” he said in a video of a council meeting in late March, adding that it’s disingenuous to count these ADUs as affordable.

Aknin said jurisdictions across San Mateo County collectively submit a report to the state at the beginning of each RHNA cycle that includes average ADU rents and that they are counted as affordable based on that report.

The current numbers don’t include recently approved affordable housing projects, including one on Bradford Street that will bring 117 very-low-income units, and another on Jefferson Avenue with 20 low-income units.

The City Council late March also approved a request for proposals for an affordable single-family home development at 611 Heller St.

Also, projects containing 50 percent or more affordable units in Redwood City can take advantage of streamlining provisions in Senate Bill 35, according to the report, and the upcoming inclusionary zoning ordinance, which will be the topic of a meeting May 7, is designed to boost affordable housing numbers.

The extent to which these efforts will help remains to be seen. 

“It’s certainly an aspirational goal and we’re adopting policies to achieve it, but it’s an ambitious goal,” Aknin said, adding that he doesn’t think a single city in the county has met its RHNA affordable housing goal and doubts many will by the end of the cycle.

(650) 344-5200 ex. 102

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