State launches lawsuit accusing Elk Grove of violating fair housing laws

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California Construction News

Governor Gavin Newsom, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, and the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), have launched a lawsuit accusing the City of Elk Grove of denying a proposed project, known as the Oak Rose Apartments.

A copy of the lawsuit is available here.

The project would add 66 units of supportive housing for lower-income households at risk of homelessness, in a jurisdiction in dire need of low-income housing opportunities. The project would also provide off-site and on-site services to assist residents in maintaining housing, improving their health status, and maximizing their ability to live and work in the community.

“Communities that fail to build their fair share of housing, including those refusing to develop desperately needed affordable housing, will be held to account,” said Governor Newsom. “Under my Administration, the state has provided unprecedented support, including billions in funding and resources to help guide communities as they work to meet their housing needs.  However, when local governments repeatedly fail to uphold their obligations and blatantly look for ways to skirt state law, we will use every tool available, including legal actions to ensure that Californians have access to needed housing.”

Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Sing-Allen responded to the lawsuit saying the city “is not a bad actor.”

“Elk Grove has a strong track record for supporting affordable housing projects and continues to engage in good faith discussions with the Oak Rose Apartments applicant in hopes of reaching a mutually agreeable solution.  In the interest of collaboration, the city has kept the Attorney General’s Office informed of the status of those discussions,” Sing-Allen said.

“The City welcomes and invites further dialogue with the attorney general’s office in hopes of reaching a resolution that is beneficial to all impacted parties, particularly the City’s low-income households and persons experiencing homelessness.”

In February 2022, the state department of housing and community development certified Elk Grove’s 2021-2029 Housing Element, identifying more than 30 sites within the city that could assist with meeting Elk Grove’s share of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA. The mayor says the city has been actively encouraging developers to build projects that could fulfill the RHNA at these locations. The site identified by the developer for the Oak Rose Project was not included as part of the RHNA designated sites.

“It is important to remember that the City did not disapprove the Oak Rose Project itself,” said Singh-Allen said.  “Rather, the cityfound that the Project was not eligible for ministerial streamlined approval under Senate Bill 35 because the Project did not comply with all of the objective development standards.”

Secifically, the project “did not comply with the restriction of residential units on the ground floor in the Old Town special planning area.

“The other project referenced by the Attorney General underwent a different, and more traditional review process, under which the city retains greater approval discretion,” according to Singh-Allen.   
    
More than 1,100 new affordable housing units, including permanent supportive housing units, are currently in some form of development in Elk Grove. In February developers broke ground on Poppy Grove Apartments, a 387-unit affordable housing project.

The lawsuit filed last week alleges the project denial “violates state laws including Senate Bill 35 (SB 35), the Housing Accountability Act (HAA), and fair housing laws intended to prohibit discriminatory land use practices, including the Nondiscrimination in Land Use Law and the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing statute (AFFH).”

“Our state is in a housing crisis and local governments must do their part to allow for affordable housing options for all members of our communities, regardless of their income level,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Everyone deserves to have a place to call home. California has critically important laws designed to combat housing discrimination and increase affordable housing opportunities. Today’s lawsuit against Elk Grove sends a strong message to local governments: if you violate fair housing laws, we will hold you to account.”

According to the lawsuit, Elk Grove council “improperly denied the project, claiming that it did not meet the city’s zoning standards and was therefore ineligible for SB 35 ministerial review.” The state is seeing injunctive relief to require Elk Grove to approve the project and realign with state law.

“Building more affordable housing is the most effective tool to reduce and prevent homelessness–but the City of Elk Grove is blatantly usurping fair housing laws and working against solving our housing and homelessness crisis,” said HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez. “HCD is laser focused on helping all jurisdictions meet their housing goals, but when cities like Elk Grove refuse to do so, we will hold them accountable.”

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