Supervisors changed Sacramento County's overall housing policy Tuesday, laying the groundwork to possibly ease low-income housing requirements on developers.
The decision came despite testimony from about 20 housing and homeless advocates, who fear the county is prepared to step away from a 2004 law that requires developments to have 15 percent affordable housing.
"We know that a stock of available and affordable housing is the best policy against homelessness," said Joan Burke of Sacramento Loaves & Fishes, a homeless agency.
Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to remove specifics about the affordable housing ordinance from their overall housing plan, which is reviewed by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
County Executive Brad Hudson said the change is necessary to avoid lawsuits should supervisors later decide to reduce the requirement.
"If you're going to amend the ordinance, you should say so up front," Hudson said.
The housing plan's reference to the affordable housing ordinance now says the county "will review and may amend" the ordinance.
Supervisors did not discuss Tuesday whether to lower the affordable housing threshold, but said they want the option to do so after further study.
Supervisor Don Nottoli opposed the change, saying he wanted a stronger commitment to the affordable housing ordinance.
The city of Folsom tried to drop its affordable housing requirement last year until the Sacramento Housing Alliance successfully sued the city in Superior Court.
The alliance's argument: The elimination of the requirement meant the city was violating its own housing policy, as reflected in the housing element.
The alliance has been leading the campaign against the possible easing of the county's affordable housing requirement.
As was the case in Folsom, officials in Sacramento County are considering a change in the policy because of recent difficulties in the housing market. A county committee has recommended that the county require new development to have 8 percent affordable housing instead of 15 percent.
The county has hired a consultant to study the issue before bringing a proposal to the supervisors.
Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Housing Alliance, told supervisors that a change in the affordable housing ordinance will leave the poor in the cold.
"The market by itself will not meet the need," he said.
Several speakers told supervisors that affordable housing programs helped them overcome homelessness and criminal backgrounds.
Tony Parker said when he got out of the Sacramento County jail six years ago, he was homeless until finding shelter through an affordable housing program. "If affordable housing goes away, all of it falls apart for me," he said.
Tuesday's discussion didn't just attract homeless advocates. Environmental activists also spoke, saying that a reduction in affordable housing will lead to more illegal camping and damage on the American River Parkway.
Call The Bee's Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @bradb_at_sacbee.