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First Steps Toward Housing Update Taken

The first steps in updating the Housing Element for the City of Escalon have been taken, with review of the procedures aired in a couple of recent sessions.

Beth Thompson and Ben Ritchie, principals in De Novo Planning Group out of Sacramento, were on hand Thursday evening, April 16 at the Escalon Community Center for a workshop, with a presentation also made at the Monday night Escalon City Council meeting on April 20.

The Housing Element for the city is a planning document "designed to address the existing and projected housing needs" for residents of all income levels, said Duane Peterson of the city's Community Development Department.

One of seven required elements of the city's general plan, the housing element must be updated periodically. It also has to be certified by the state.

Once the process is set in motion, there is a 60-day review period during which city residents, in addition to state officials, can review, discuss and revise the housing element before it meets with final Planning Commission and City Council approval. Then it is sent back to the state for final approval.

"This is to establish a long term framework to meet housing needs," Thompson said in making the Thursday night presentation.

Other factors, such as meeting requirements for CDBG, Community Development Block Grant, and HOME funds for housing assistance programs, will also figure in to the final housing element plan.

Phase one, said Thompson, is to identify the housing needs, with phase two being the drafting of the housing element itself.

"Phase three is the public review of the housing element, phase four is housing element adoption," she said.

Environmental analysis, including a California Environmental Quality Act, CEQA, review must be done as well.

Thompson said there are several main sections to the update, from the needs assessment to identifying the constraints to housing, resources for housing development, evaluation of past accomplishments and the actual housing plan.

Assessment is first, evaluating the needs based on demographic trends including population, growth, housing stock on hand and the employment situation.

"You also have to look at the special needs groups, the elderly and disabled, large families, single parents, farm workers," Thompson said.

The city also has to make sure they meet requirements for providing a percentage of lower income housing and both Ritchie and Thompson said there are community input opportunities to help make sure the city residents have a chance to say what type of housing they want to see come in for the future.

Several facts and figures were part of the presentation, and there was also an opportunity for group activities, to get a sampling of what the community wants.

In Escalon, 75 percent of the housing is owner occupied and 25 percent is occupied by renters, Thompson said. The current vacancy rate is 3.1 percent and 6.2 percent of the housing is considered 'overcrowded,' with too many people living in the square footage.

Thompson said city officials and residents alike have to focus on three key issues: Challenges to housing, Opportunities for providing housing and Priorities for meeting those needs.

"There will be multiple opportunities to have input," Thompson said of doing the housing element work over the next several weeks. "I anticipate we'll be sending it to the state before the end of May."