Building Political Will

A Shelterforce Q&A with Irvine Mayor Beth Krom

Shelterforce: In an environment of competing needs, such as education, safety and parks, how do you prioritize the development and preservation of affordable housing against other important needs?

Mayor Krom: With a median housing price in Irvine of about $800,000, “affordable” becomes a relative term. In 2005, the City of Irvine created a housing task force. That effort produced a “full-spectrum” housing strategy that set a goal of tripling our inventory of affordable housing to about 9,700 units by 2025. The strategy was unanimously adopted by our city council, and we had no public opposition owing to the public process and community education we employed.

Part of the strategy was to create a community land trust to support the interest of permanent affordability. Irvine is a jobs-rich city with three jobs for every housing unit. A mix of affordability in our housing is critical to the long-term success of our economy and our community.

SF: A land trust is only one way to preserve or develop affordable housing. Your city has numerous programs and policies that address this need. Were there any specific problems or needs that weren’t being met that drew you to the land-trust model?

Krom: We had been successful in creating affordable housing over the years through inclusionary zoning and collaboration with local developers-primarily the Irvine Company, which is the primary landowner in our city. Our city is 35 years old, so some of the initial inventory of affordable housing has already lost its affordability. We wanted to expand inventory and ensure long-term affordability.

SF: What was the political “sell” like? In light of competing interests-all valid and important-how did your administration promote the commitment to both affordable housing and the CLT model?

Krom: We are the only city in Orange County with inclusionary zoning that requires 15 percent of all new development to be affordable and an in-lieu fee program for developers who prefer to provide cash rather than units. We leverage the in-lieu dollars to build affordable housing and bridge financing for affordable-housing projects. The land trust provides the opportunity to seek land in-lieu of units that we can develop under the trust. Our citizens are educated and they recognize that, as long as we maintain our commitment to high-quality, well-integrated affordable housing, the community needs a broader spectrum of housing resources.

SF: How do you expect your city’s land trust to evolve in the future?

Krom: We have a unique opportunity. The City of Irvine is redeveloping a closed Marine base into the first great metropolitan park of the 21st century. It is a public-private partnership, with limited commercial and residential development at the edges of a 1,347-acre park (twice the size of New York’s Central Park). Through the 20-percent housing set-aside funds that come from the redevelopment agency, we will have a minimum of $150 million to invest in affordable housing. By leveraging resources wisely, we believe we can reach our goal.

SF: Given the complexities of affordable housing, especially for low- and very low-income households, what do you see is the role of other key players such as state and federal government, the nonprofit sector and for-profit developers? And what more can and should each be doing?

Krom: We need to stop looking at issues out of context with one another. Without housing for the people who work in our communities, we create imbalance. Community development is not just about buildings-it’s about the people who become the human energy that drives a city forward. The need for housing close to the job centers becomes even more important here in Southern California, where freeway gridlock affects quality of life for everyone. We need a national tool kit for creating a full spectrum of housing opportunities in every city in America.

Our city is fortunate to have unique resources, a progressive perspective, a diverse and educated electorate and a coalition of partners in the business and development community. Building the political will for elected officials to take on this issue will require a higher level of support and participation from every level of government and an advocacy environment that is driven by creativity and collaboration rather than conflict.

SF: Finally, what do you see as the explicit benefit of providing an economically diverse housing stock to your city?

Krom: Irvine is a wonderful city, anchored by a major university and home to 13,000 businesses and more than 100 national headquarters. Our long-term success requires housing for the people who work in our city. It’s that simple.

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