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California chooses Atascadero to build affordable housing site

Atascadero State Hospital
Flickr / Thomas Hawk
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The lawn in front of the Atascadero State Hospital is one of the state-owned properties where the state will build their affordable housing.

Last month California selected five state-owned properties to develop affordable housing projects, and one of the sites is in Atascadero. The state says this decision is a part of a program to address California’s housing shortage.

The program is part of a goal to build more than one million affordable homes by 2030 in California. The other locations identified are Fresno, Covina, Sacramento, and Oceanside. Right now the state is searching for housing developers to build these units.

In 2019 Governor Gavin Newsom created the Excess Land For Affordable Housing Program in an attempt to address California’s housing shortage. The state said throughout the establishment of this program they were able to produce about 4500 sustainable, cost-effective housing units.

Phil Dunsmore is the Community Development Director for the City of Atascadero. He said about a year ago, the state reached out to the city to find out which piece of land was most desirable for a future housing project.

They settled on an empty lot in front of the Atascadero State Hospital.

“We mentioned that they might want to look at the site in the front because it's far more reasonable and much closer to existing multifamily housing, and we only found out that they had selected that site just when the public found out about a week or two ago,” Dunsmore said.

Dunsmore said there is a difference between low-income housing and affordable housing. This plot of land is meant to be affordable to the average worker in Atascadero. He said it most likely will not be subsidized housing.

pshh_atascadero_triangle_-_1.jpg
Greta Mart/KCBX
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A People's Self-Help Housing building in Atascadero.

“It's not housing that's going to be essentially free housing or significantly subsidized housing as far as we know but it would be fixed at certain income levels to make sure that we can accommodate the population that we have in our area that's contributing to our workforce,” Dunsmore said.

Dunsmore said the biggest challenge Atascadero will face in terms of this development is finding the extra resources that the city didn’t plan for. He said Atascadero only has so much water, for instance, so adding more people into the equation will put a strain on the city’s infrastructure.

“We carefully analyze the impacts of adding new residences to our community so that we can ensure that we can supply all those things for the future. It makes it a little challenging when we go outside of that box, you know and the state says you need to add extra housing where you didn't analyze that impact previously,” Dunsmore said.

Still, Dunsmore said it’s important to build more housing, even if it’s a strain on city resources.

The program is part of a goal to build more than one million affordable homes by 2030 in California. The other locations identified are Fresno, Covina, Sacramento, and Oceanside. Right now the state is searching for housing developers to build these units.

Gabriela Fernandez is a general assignment reporter at KCBX News. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an Associate Producer on the TahoeLand podcast.