Business & Economy

Advocates take Huntington Beach to court over lack of affordable housing

High-density housing like this apartment building under construction are leading to complaints by residents.
High-density housing like this apartment building under construction are leading to complaints by residents.
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The clash between affordable housing needs and community preservation has taken a legal twist in Huntington Beach. 

In a case scheduled for hearing later this month, a group of low-income residents has accused Huntington Beach of effectively blocking the creation of affordable housing. City officials said they're simply trying to preserve the community's beach-town feel.

The complaint stems from a city council vote in May to slash the number of new residential units allowed in the busy sector around Beach and Erdinger boulevards from 4,500 to 2,100. That decision conflicted with the city's housing plan passed by a previous council, which calls for most of the city's future high-density, affordable housing to be situated in that area. 

The city is supposed to have more than 500 housing units for low and very low-income households, and the change to its housing plan threatens the city’s ability to meet that goal. 

The non-profit Public Law Center is among several groups that filed a petition in Orange County Superior Court to invalidate the council’s decision. They argue the city's campaign against density is illegal. 

“Orange County is one of the least affordable markets in the whole nation where there’s a desperate need for affordable housing,” said Sarah Gregory, a lawyer with the Santa-Ana based center.

A hearing has been tentatively set for Aug. 31.

State regulators have also gotten involved. The California Department of Housing and Community Development sent a letter to the city in May after the vote, warning the city it had fallen out of compliance with minimum housing needs.

Huntington Beach Councilman Erik Peterson said the council was not trying to push out low-income residents, but wanted to slow the pace of development in one of the busiest parts of town.

“High density is urbanizing our city and we’re a suburban beach community,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the city is aware its housing plan is out of state compliance and is working on identify new places to situate housing for low-income and very low-income residents.

The state has not given Huntington Beach a deadline to get back into compliance but said the city may be missing out on affordable housing funds in the meantime.

The city manager, mayor and city attorney could not be reached for comment. In an email, a city spokeswoman said its policy is to decline comment on pending litigation.

Other groups suing the city include the California Affordable Housing Law Project and the Jones Day law firm. The petition was submitted on behalf of the non-profit Kennedy Commission and two formerly homeless veterans who say they have been priced out of living in Huntington Beach.