The San Benito County Board of Supervisors held a special joint meeting with the Planning Commision on June 6 to discuss updates to the county’s General Plan, specifically those that deal with long-term land use and housing needs. 

The board received presentations from the commission on the status of the Land Use and Housing Elements of the plan as part of 2023-2031 cycle updates. 

The Housing Element within the plan is a state-mandated document that makes recommendations for addressing state and local housing needs. It establishes ways to address the housing needs of all income levels including Extremely Low Income, Very Low Income and Low Income Households. 

As in many surrounding cities and counties, adequate housing at the lower-income affordability levels could prove difficult to supply in the coming years in San Benito County, according to the June 6 discussion. 

At the special joint meeting, the Planning Commission unveiled its project schedule for the next year, which involves multiple workshops to inform the community of their updates to the Housing Element. The commission has a target date of February 2024 to have a finalized draft of the housing element component for the updated General Plan.

The county retained the services of Kimley-Horn and Associates, which is also working with the City of Hollister on its General Plan Housing Element, to assist county staff in making updates to the plan.

Abraham Prado, Director of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement for San Benito County’s Planning and Land Use Department, gave the board a presentation on the planning commission’s vision for the coming year. 

“Housing is a big, big issue in our community,” Prado said.

The updates to the Housing Element are determined by the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). This process helps local governments decide how many new homes to plan for and how affordable they should be. 

For the 2023-2031 RHNA assessment, San Benito County is required to plan for a total of 754 new units. These include 123 Extremely Low Income, 123 Very Low income, 198 Low Income, 103 Moderate Income and 207 Above Moderate Income units. Over half of these fall within the low income bracket in a county where the Area Median Income for 2022 was $105,100.

Prado stated that the planning of Moderate and Above Moderate Income units would not have “the least bit of an issue” for the county to achieve, but that moving forward for lower income units is a matter of deliberation with consultants and the public. 

Plans for a future housing development on North Chappell Road were also previewed at the special joint meeting. The proposed site would primarily serve chronically homeless residents and current blueprints give the option of either building 50 individual dwellings or a 50-unit apartment complex. The property is owned by San Benito County but is within the Hollister city limits.

The project is applying for grant funding from California’s Homekey Program, a pandemic-era housing initiative created by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office to keep unhoused individuals safe during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Earlier this year, the state approved a third round of funding for the program and the Planning Commission will submit a grant proposal by the end of July.

The Planning Commission is looking to partner with the Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association to plan and build the Chappell Road development. Gabriel Torres, Vice President of Operations for CHISPA and former member of the Hollister Planning Commision, was on hand to support the project.

“We are here for the city, for the county and to provide housing for residents of San Benito County,” said Torres during public comment.

CHISPA has built and renovated 2,447 single-family homes and apartments for low- and moderate-income people in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties, according to its website. They have worked on previous housing projects in Hollister, including a subdivision for Moderate Income families and a multi-family complex on Buena Vista Road.

Board of Supervisors chair Mindy Sotelo asked Torres whether he could guarantee that the housing being built will be for San Benito County residents if the county brought CHISPA on board for the Chappell Road project. “We do everything possible to give priority to locals to apply first in order to not violate any Fair Housing laws,” responded Torres. 

Local resident and business owner Cristina Chavez spoke via Zoom during public comment and voiced her support for housing initiatives like Chappell Road and for affordable housing in general. “California is deep in a housing crisis that is fueling poverty, inequality and homelessness,” she said. 

San Benito County 5th District Planning Commissioner Celeste Toledo-Bocanegra expressed her concern over potential issues stemming from these types of housing projects.

“I don’t want it to turn into a bad area where there’s, like, addiction, homelessness. I just don’t want it to turn into an awful place to look at when you drive by,” said Toledo-Bocanegra.

Overall, the mood over the project was optimistic and the proposal is slated to move forward later this summer.

Affordable housing, defined

The California Department of Housing and Community Development defines the different categories of affordable and market-rate housing by their availability to the various household income levels. Specifically, they are defined as follows:

– Extremely Low Income: 15-30% of the Area Median Income ($105,100 in San Benito County)

– Very Low Income: 30%-50% of the AMI

– Low Income: 50%-80% of the AMI

– Moderate Income: 80%-120% of the AMI

– Above Moderate Income: 120% of the AMI and above

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