California legislature sends “landmark” housing bills to governor for signature

September 29, 2017 11:28 AM CDT BY MARILYN BECHTEL

OAKLAND, Calif.—Among hundreds of bills passed by the California legislature this year, and now awaiting action by Gov. Jerry Brown, is a package of bills to address the state’s long-standing and rapidly-worsening housing crisis, which affects low-income Californians most sharply. The governor has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto legislation.

Both houses of the legislature, and the governorship, are in the hands of Democrats.

Three bills heading the list would provide substantial funding for affordable housing, put an affordable housing bond issue on the 2018 ballot, and ease requirements for developers in cities not meeting state housing requirements.

  • Senate Bill 2, introduced by Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would mandate a fee of $75-$225 on real estate transactions, and could bring in over $250 million a year for low-income affordable housing and fighting homelessness. Atkins said the bill “will deliver relief to many residents who are struggling under the weight of housing instability, bring people experiencing homelessness in off the streets, and spur production of homes for people of all income levels throughout the state.”
  • SB 3, by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would put a $4 billion affordable housing bond issue on the November 2018 ballot. $1 billion would help military veterans buy homes with no or little down-payment, while $3 billion would go to affordable housing development. Beall said his measure will result in over 70,000 new affordable housing units and create nearly 137,000 jobs.
  • SB 35, by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would let developers in cities not on track to meet state zoning requirements for housing at all income levels bypass local government review. The bill would require prevailing wages on buildings of more than nine units. Wiener called the package of bills “a very healthy down payment” toward addressing the state’s housing shortage, but warned that it will take “years of sustained focus and work” to overcome California’s massive housing shortage.

Among a dozen other bills in the legislative package, passed by the state Senate and Assembly, are measures to increase effective enforcement of state housing laws and requirements, remove barriers to housing development at all income levels, strengthen local housing planning laws, and provide more affordable housing for farmworkers across California.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, called the package now on the governor’s desk “landmark measures to help those with the fewest options when it comes to housing.” And Gov. Brown has said through a spokesperson that he supports all the bills. Some of the versions awaiting his signature are the result of serious negotiations in which he played a part.

The present dire situation for housing in California has a long history.

For decades, the building of new housing has lagged far behind need, with the greatest gap affecting housing affordable to those with low incomes. Among the contributing factors: cities and towns largely determine where and what kinds of housing can be built. Many have felt pressures from residents who don’t want those with lower-incomes, or people of color, in their neighborhood.

Rapid growth of the high-tech industry in some parts of the state has brought sudden population expansion to urban areas.

Land in California’s coastal areas can cost several times as much per acre as it does in other large urban areas around the country, and state laws mandating that communities earmark land for housing at all income levels haven’t been consistently enforced.

An important factor, housing experts say, was the passage of Proposition 13, a state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1978, freezing property taxes at 1975 levels plus 2 percent a year for “inflation,” and limiting reassessment of property value to times when ownership changes or new construction is undertaken. Prop. 13 gave the state the responsibility of distributing property tax revenues to localities, and any new or increased state tax requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses. In the years since, numerous attempts to remove or change Prop. 13 have failed.

Statewide, median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,750, and a two-bedroom unit costs $2,110, with rents soaring far higher in the state’s largest cities. With the current median cost to buy a home $565,000—and higher in coastal areas—ownership is rarely possible for those with lower- or even middle-incomes. Housing costs are considered a major factor in California having the highest poverty rate of any state, with one in five Californians living below the U.S. Census Bureau’s “supplemental poverty threshold” in the last few years.

A study by the University of California, Berkeley, released earlier this month found that some 56 percent of voters have thought about moving because of soaring housing costs. Many have considered leaving the state. Across California, nearly half of voters—and nearly two-thirds in the San Francisco Bay Area—say the crisis is serious.

Housing analysts are calling this year’s package of bills the state’s most ambitious move in many decades, but warn that the measures will take years to bear fruit.

Meanwhile, rents and home prices are likely to keep moving upwards, and affordable housing advocates are vowing to keep up the struggle.

Via People’s World

Boycotting the NFL: Colin Kaepernick and the right to resist

August 10, 2017 10:02 AM CDT BY CHAUNCEY K. ROBINSON

Professional American football player Colin Kaepernick used his platform as the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers to bring attention to the injustice of police brutality in the United States and the continued oppression of Black and brown people in the country. He made headlines last fall when he refused to stand for the national anthem and set off a string of actions protesting police abuse by athletes across the country.

The 29-year-old Kaepernick is currently paying a hefty price for his activism, as he can’t find a team willing to sign him. Fans, and a good amount of the general public, are calling foul on this recent development, and a campaign to boycott the National Football League (NFL) is now underway. Kaepernick’s fight to stay employed, even as he speaks out against systemic injustice, is an important battle that goes beyond sports.

A petition making the rounds on Change.org that uses the hashtag #NoKaepernickNoNFL already has (as of this writing) over 136,000 signatures toward its 150,000 goal. The organizers of the petition made the case for a boycott on the website:

“If you are appalled by this [Kaepernick not being signed], then show your power by boycotting the NFL until Kaepernick gets signed to a team… We understand NFL is very important to you. We also understand the purpose of Colin Kaepernick’s protest is FAR more important than any game you will ever watch. Simply put, if things stay the same for the way America—where “all men are created equal”—treats people of color, then your loved ones, friends, and children will eventually be affected as well… This situation shines a light on how much the NFL really cares about its Black athletes. It’s pretty much: Play for us, entertain us, make us money, and shut up.”

The protest is going beyond online petitions though, with Los Angeles civil rights activists planning demonstrations outside NFL stadiums. Najee Ali, leader of the local chapter of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, announced that protests will take place outside the pre-season games of the L.A. Rams and L.A. Chargers. In an interview with LA Weekly, Ali said, “My attitude is Colin Kaepernick may not be Tom Brady, but you can’t tell me he shouldn’t be in training camp. He’s being blackballed for standing up for black and brown folks… The NFL is a form of the modern-day plantation. Most of the players are black and the ownership is all white. They’re treating Kaepernick like a runaway slave, making him an example so other players get the message: Do not get too uppity, or we will blackball you. The parallels are very much like slavery, except the players are million-dollar slaves under contract who have made billions for the NFL.”

Ali, and others, have a point, as statistics show the NFL is 70 percent Black. The population of people that predominate in this professional sport are part of a group disproportionately affected by police brutality in this country. A recent study revealed that Black men are three times as likely to die from police use of force. Yet, it would appear that the sports league considers any attention brought to this injustice a distraction from the game. The distraction argument doesn’t hold much weight, however, given the NFL is no stranger to hanging onto, and even standing by, controversial players past and present.

The New York Giants were completely fine signing kicker Josh Brown even after allegations surfaced that he had assaulted his wife. It wasn’t until even more damning evidence was revealed, in which Brown admitted to domestic violence, that the Giants released him from his contract last year.

Running back Joe Mixon was caught on video punching a woman in 2014, yet he was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. A.J. Jefferson was a player arrested for domestic assault by strangulation. Although he was initially released by his then team, the Minnesota Vikings, he eventually found a home with the Seattle Seahawks. Not to mention Michael Vick, who was found guilty of illegal dog fighting, spent 21 months in federal prison, yet was able to become the NFL’s first two-time $100 million player in 2011.

In all these instances where so-called distractions by players occurred, fans and teammates were able to carry on with the game. Clearly, the claim that Kaepernick’s activist “distraction” is so egregious is an unfounded one. Kaepernick being unsigned also can’t be blamed on merit, as recent statistics show his skills and accomplishments are superior to half of the NFL backups now being signed.

“They’re treating Kaepernick like a runaway slave, making him an example so other players get the message: Do not get too uppity, or we will blackball you.”

If the arguments of distraction and meritocracy are disproven, then it becomes clear that Kaepernick is dealing with the fallout of taking a stand against systemic racism and inequality. By kneeling during the National Anthem, Kaepernick solidified his presence on the world stage of politics and popular culture. His distraction wasn’t in line with other football player controversies before him that involved arrests, domestic violence, and the like.

He also had the audacity to do so during the onset of the era of Trump, a time when those who cater to racism and hate have become emboldened. The administration now occupying the White House has given space for such behavior to rise to the surface.

Donald Trump has gone on record condemning Kaepernick’s protest and said that teams might not be signing the football player for fear of getting bullied on Twitter by the president himself. Trump used Kaepernick’s current unemployment in a recent speech in Louisville, Kentucky to push a twisted narrative about how standing up for the American flag equates to patriotism.

Trump clearly sees Kaepernick’s protests as something that goes beyond sports. Those who resist the hateful rhetoric of Trump’s administration should do so as well, and they should defend Kaepernick’s right to protest.

What Kaepernick has decided to do is utilize his platform to take on a system that would rather keep him quiet while it profits from his labor. His resistance to efforts to silence him—and his fight for his and others’ freedom from oppression—is not unlike what many are going through these days: struggling to maintain a livelihood while pushing for progress, whether it be on the job or in the streets.

The stakes are high because if Kaepernick goes without being signed, it could send a signal that standing up for human rights and justice is a battle with too high a cost. It will also prove that corporations, like the NFL, are allowed to use Black and brown bodies for profit, but dismiss them when it comes to the brutality they face under a system embedded with racism and oppression. Neither of these messages are good ones in a time where continued attacks on basic rights by the current administration in Washington occur almost daily.

Kaepernick chose to kneel for justice, along with donating to charities and starting programs that combat police brutality, and it seems only fitting that fans, and the general public, take a symbolic stand with him for his right to resist. If we don’t do so, then Trump—and those that believe in his ideologies—win.

Even if you don’t like sports, this is one “game” you can’t afford to sit out.

Via People’s World