Roseville’s development services director addresses the city’s need for affordable housing

Mike Isom is the development services director for the city of Roseville. (Photo courtesy City of Roseville)

By Ben van der Meer

Mike Isom is the development services director for the city of Roseville. He spoke to us about how that city, one of the fastest growing in the region, ensures there’s a supply of housing for current and future residents.

Tell me about your organization and how it relates to California’s housing crisis.

I think first and foremost, Roseville has been a pro-housing and development community. We’ve had city councils that recognize the need for growth, but doing so in an orderly and comprehensive way. At our level, development services covers from a project’s inception to development and code enforcement. We’re focused on making the process as efficient as possible. Cities don’t build housing, so we ensure we build enough through our partnerships with private developers and builders.

What do you see as the major factors driving the housing crisis in this region?

A lot of it had to do with a lack of production following the Great Recession. We lost four to five years of housing production, and now you’ve exacerbated the demand-supply issue.

What do you see as the most promising solutions to lack of affordable housing?

The state of California is trying to implement legislation that reduces barriers, and we’ve already been doing those things. We’re choosing to be part of the solution, and we want to see things built. At the state, there’s sometimes a disconnect between mandates and updates to buildings codes, for example. Updates for codes in energy, for example, you have $35,000 to $40,000 in added cost per home. Every code cycle, something comes out that increases the complexity while we’re trying to add homes. It’s a disconnect that needs some attention.

What more can you tell us about these solutions and why they offer the most potential to solve the problem of housing affordability?

I’ll just speak about Roseville, but a predictable, efficient process is key. You hear reports about projects that take two years to get civil improvement plans approved. We get it done in two months. Building permits get issued in days rather than months. Cut out the fluff in the permitting process. If you have a predictable process, builders can factor that in. If push comes to shove, they’ll choose Roseville.

What limitations around these solutions exist?

California Environmental Quality Act is the perennial issue with a lot of builders. We do more planning up front, but other cities do a more piecemeal approach, where you get reviewed in one department at a time. That takes longer. It speaks to the vision of our council to plan up front. Public financing of infrastructure continues to be a challenge. No one likes impact fees, but someone has to pay them. Propositions 13 and 218 really hamstrung public jurisdictions’ ability to pay for these infrastructure costs, so now you could be pushing $80,000, $100,000 in fees alone. But we have to pay for infrastructure. For specifically affordable housing, the state has a mandate for cities to build more, but it hasn’t made is easy to get financing. It’s so competitive that you can’t imagine more than one out of every 10 projects getting financing. There needs to be more funding.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and Solutions Journalism Network. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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