How Roseville blossomed from sleepy suburb to fast-growing city

Oct 25, 2023

In the late 1980s, Roseville decided to grow — deliberately and thoughtfully. The then-sleepy Sacramento exurb, long a railway hub for the Central Valley’s agriculture products, started focusing on approving housing and commercial projects to attract investors and developers.

Multinational companies such as Hewlett-Packard and NEC soon arrived, bringing upwards of 5,000 new jobs. Roseville grew from 25,000 residents in 1980 to an astounding 155,000 today. Newcomers come for both the jobs and the city’s new amenities, including parks and open spaces, retail hubs, schools and libraries, and a state-of-the-art medical facility.

People are also attracted by the city’s wide range of housing options.

“Roseville made a conscious decision to create one of the most desirable communities in California,” said Mike Isom, the city’s development services director. “People want to live here.”

That trend has only accelerated in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge in remote work. Former Bay Area residents in particular are attracted by the city’s housing prices, which are 50-70% lower than in San Francisco and the surrounding counties. Roseville has issued nearly 6,300 new single-family home permits since 2019.

But there is more to the Roseville story than single-family homes for affluent tech workers. With its 1988 General Plan, Roseville formalized a plan to spur housing for all income ranges and adopted an affordable housing goal: At least 10% of all housing in new specific plans had to be affordable.

“From early on, city leaders bought into the vision that we want to have people of all income levels living here,” Mike Isom said. “We want people who work here to be able to live here.”

To encourage housing affordability, Roseville streamlines the review process for developments with high percentages of affordable housing. Those developers also get bumped ahead of the review and processing queue. As a result, developers actively seek out Roseville to build affordable housing says Roseville Housing Manager Trisha Isom.

“They know that we will bend over backwards to help them,” she said. “We have programs to get these affordable projects through processing faster, easier, for less money. We shepherd them through every step of the way. I’ve had developers tell me they are shocked at how easy it is here.”

Today, Roseville has 28 affordable rental housing developments. Developers have completed 3,958 affordable rental units, including 1,000 for people with extremely- or very-low incomes. Another 2,400 units are in different stages of planning and construction, with 50% set aside for those in the extremely- and very low-income brackets.  

The city issued approximately 1,680 building permits for homes in 2022 alone — roughly 110 permits for every 10,000 people. This metric places Roseville on par with the top production rates in the nation according to the annual Market Urbanism Report.

One developer that has benefited from Roseville’s commitment to affordable housing is Mercy Housing. The nonprofit has a significant footprint in the city.

In 2018, Mercy completed Lohse Apartments — 58 units for those with a maximum annual income of $55,000 for a family of four. Mercy also has another affordable housing project in the pipeline, the 98-unit Pleasant Grove Apartments.

Rich Ciraulo, Mercy’s regional director for housing development, praised the city’s flexibility, responsiveness, and design guidelines. Combined, he says, they make the notoriously time-sensitive projects financially viable.

“With Lohse, it was so helpful that when we came onto the project, the site was already part of its specific downtown plan, which included some predetermined design guidelines,” Ciraulo said. “So, we knew how to best shape the project to fit those guidelines. That made the path straightforward and reduced a lot of the uncertainty around entitlements and approvals.”

Mercy Project Developer Beckie Flores does not take her close relationship with the city for granted. “It is so smooth to work with Roseville, which has not always been our experience as affordable housing developers,” she said. “They understand how difficult it is to take a project from conception to completion.”

Other affordable housing projects include Sun Rose Apartments. Funded in part by the state’s Homekey program, the 83 units of permanent supportive housing are expected to open in December 2023.

Another is Main Street Plaza. Completed in 2021, the community has 65 units of permanent supportive housing. It is Old Town Roseville’s first major project since the 1970s and is targeted at low-income families, veterans, and people with disabilities.

Roseville’s long, successful record would not be possible without community buy-in. As the city works with developers to facilitate new housing construction, it makes sure that residents are informed of the process every step of the way.

“By setting expectations and making our plans available to the public, we have been able to alleviate the majority of concerns,” said Mike Isom.

The key, he noted, is outreach. Public messaging is transparent, clear, and consistent, no matter the medium. The city carefully ensures residents understand what developers are proposing, any potential impacts, and how the city can respond.

“We try to be proactive in our messaging, saying, ‘Here's what we can do, here's what we can't do,’” he said. “We have a lot of very positive examples that we can point to, that the community would never have known was an affordable housing development by the way they look — they're very attractive, well-maintained, and well-managed.”

Given Roseville’s success in fast-tracking all types of housing developments, it is no surprise it received the state’s prohousing designation in 2022. It’s also no wonder developers are flocking to Roseville.

“We have developers coming in now wanting to build affordable projects even on multifamily sites that don’t require it,” Mike Isom said. “They will tell you that Roseville is far easier to work with than any city they have ever encountered and that nobody else in the country does it like we do.”

The Cal Cities #LocalWorks initiative shines the spotlight on examples of local actions that are making a difference to their communities. Show how #LocalWorks in your community by emailing Managing Editor Brian Hendershot with a short pitch. Completed stories under 1,000 words are welcome, but publication is not guaranteed.