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Article updated: 1/20/2013 6:35 AM

St. Charles on verge of new affordable housing rules

By James Fuller

St. Charles officials believe any major rebound in the housing market may place the city on the precipice of violating a state law that requires a certain amount of affordable housing in every community.

With that in mind, the city council this week is expected to vote on a new plan that would make it harder for developers to skirt the city's affordable housing goals.

State law requires at least 10 percent of a community's housing stock be affordable. Before the housing bubble burst, St. Charles was slowly approaching that danger zone for state intervention.

The market crash resulted in home prices tanking. Now the city sits comfortably with 18 percent of its housing stock meeting state rules for affordability.

To keep it that way, and to respond to the housing market as it changes, city staff members have created a sliding scale for developers to follow at the suggestion of Alderman Cliff Carrignan.

The plan would lock in two major changes to city policy.

First, developers would no longer be able to get out of affordable housing requirements as a normal part of the planned unit development process. They'd have to document true hardship in the form of environmental conditions, blight or unusual financial hardship.

Even then, developers could face a requirement of building affordable housing off site or documenting a true effort to get grant funds to provide affordable housing on site.

"If an applicant feels they have a valid reason to not meet the ordinance as it is, what they have to do is justify that," city planner Matthew O'Rourke said. "Essentially, what we're requiring is a very detailed pro forma."

The second change is the sliding scale itself. The more affordable housing that exists in the city, the less a developer would have to provide or the lower the fee in lieu of the housing would be.

Anytime the affordable housing stock of the city reaches 13.75 percent or less, a developer would have to meet 100 percent of the city's affordable housing requirements. If the amount of affordable housing in the city ever reached 25 percent or more, the affordable housing requirements would be suspended outright.

The city's 18 percent affordable housing level would call for a developer to meet 50 percent of the normal affordable housing requirements.

The city council is set to vote on the new rules at its next full meeting Tuesday, Jan. 22.

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