The following is a letter sent to Sustainable Saratoga supporters on our email distribution list on Monday, October 30, 2017 regarding the status of the SPA Housing Ordinance. 

We at Sustainable Saratoga have heard from many of you, asking for information about the status of the SPA Housing Ordinance. Because of your interest in and support of this affordable housing program that we have been actively promoting for over a year and a half, we would like to update you as to its current status and the obstacles we’ve encountered.

As background, Sustainable Saratoga, as a not-for-profit volunteer organization that addresses sustainability and promotes smart growth in the community, has long been concerned with the growing lack of housing diversity and affordability in the city. Over the years we have worked on numerous proposals to try to address this important issue.

In late 2015, we decided one of the best approaches would be to revive the city’s detailed 2006 inclusionary zoning proposal.  We discussed this concept in individual meetings with each City Council member. Each of the Council members encouraged us to bring the proposal to the Council table. Consequently, we developed an updated proposal for consideration by the Council, incorporating ideas that had been tested successfully in other communities around the country. We felt cautiously optimistic!

The SPA Housing Ordinance is an inclusionary zoning regulation that works well in communities like ours with high housing costs and high-end housing demand. In exchange for a density bonus, the ordinance would require developers to set aside up to 20% of the units for middle income households in large new developments. These projects would still generate healthy profits since at least 80% of the units would still be market-rate, and even the affordable units would confer a profit. Without depending on federal or state government subsidies, this ordinance would provide both rental and homeownership opportunities for the people who work or grew up in this community.

Sustainable Saratoga was interested in promoting an ordinance that had a real chance of being adopted. Before we formally submitted the proposal in August 2016, we met several times with key local developers and the Chamber of Commerce.  We reached out to other civic organizations and faith-based groups interested in housing issues. We spoke with many of you, our supporters and followers, and received overwhelming support for pursuing this program.

We’re sorry to report that our strong efforts have not resulted in success for adopting this program. The City Council appears stalled in any effort to move this program forward, and our requests for a vote are essentially unheeded.

Despite this, we are convinced that the SPA Housing Ordinance is workable. We are convinced that this ordinance would be one of the most effective tools to guarantee mixed-income affordable housing for Saratogians and those who work in the community.

However, the Council had more than a year to review and refine the proposed ordinance, and they have not meaningfully advanced it. They had input from many groups and individual citizens, including many of you. They held two public workshops and five public hearings. At meeting after meeting, citizens in attendance shared their concerns about the impact of housing trends in the City and spoke overwhelmingly in support of the ordinance. After closing the public hearing period, the Council then held a special workshop with development and banking interests.   Those industries had plenty of opportunity to publicly participate in the discussions about the ordinance during the nearly year-long process preceding the workshop. They were also well represented on the informal “technical committee” that the City formed to review and refine the ordinance. The position and views expressed at the workshop were largely vague and speculative. Sustainable Saratoga gave the City Council a written response to each of the objections to the proposal. To date, the Council has not taken any action on the ordinance.

Affordable housing policy in our community is the responsibility of the City Council.  While the Council may be sincerely committed to providing solutions, their failure so far to vote on this important housing initiative has the effect of perpetuating large-scale high-end market developments and declining to promulgate public policy that would ensure some consistent level of affordability in the community’s housing stock. If the Council declines to vote on the SPA Housing Ordinance, we respectfully request that they provide their rationale – and to reaffirm their commitment to affordability, diversity, and inclusivity in the city’s neighborhoods and how they intend to get there.

Sustainable Saratoga wants to thank you for your energetic support of this affordable housing program. We will continue to work in ways that will keep this important issue in the city’s awareness, and we hope that someday all of our efforts will result in a more sustainable approach to housing for all of the city’s citizens. Saratoga Springs deserves nothing less.

Harry Moran
Board Chair, Sustainable Saratoga