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

East Oaklanders present new vision for fair development

March 14 2016

OAKLAND, Calif. – For years, negotiations have been underway for Coliseum City, a huge new development project in East Oakland planned for land surrounding two major sports arenas and featuring hotels, housing, retail shops and restaurants as well as rebuilt sports facilities. The proposed development is part of an overall project called the Coliseum Area Specific Plan.

The city, and the surrounding Alameda County, which share ownership of the present sports facilities, are continuing to meet with developers and with the Oakland Raiders and Oakland A’s, who use the present sports facilities.

In its “Vision for the Future,” the city lists as its first objective keeping those teams in Oakland, while developing business opportunities, creating a “vibrant urban mixed use district,” protecting the environment and restoring natural habitat along the adjacent San Francisco Bay shoreline.

To date, negotiations about the development have been taking place mostly behind closed doors, without community participation.

At the same time, those living in the economically challenged area – many of them African American and Latino – are bringing forward their vision of development that also meets their needs for affordable housing, a clean and healthy environment, and good union jobs for current residents. Area residents, and housing, environmental and labor activists throughout the city, have demanded repeatedly that such community benefits be written into any development plan for the area.

The latest in a series of such efforts was a March 5 town hall meeting at Union Baptist Church, where nearly 200 area residents worked in intensive small-group discussions to flesh out specific ways development can help current residents stay in their community and build a better future.

The town hall was organized by the Oakland United coalition of community, environmental and labor organizations.

Longtime East Oakland activist Esther Goolsby, a member of Communities for a Better Environment, started the ball rolling by declaring, “We don’t want another development that’s going to radically change Oakland and it’s not going to benefit our community.”

Together with environmental justice and affordable, reliable public transit, Goolsby emphasized that what is needed is “affordable housing so people can stay in their homes and not have to move from their community and their heritage,” along with “good, secure union jobs so we can put food on our tables, and give back to society.”

Her theme was picked up by Theodora Polk of East Bay Housing Organizations, who told the group, “We have to visualize, now and years from now, how you think Oakland is going to be. We want people to be able to stay in Oakland, keep their jobs, have better jobs. We want children to go to school each day and learn, without having to fear that when they get home, they may not have a home left.

“If we don’t start fighting now,” Polk added, “five years from now our children will have no future. So we must visualize how we want the future to go, for ourselves and our families.”

Emmanuel Barraza, an 18-year-old college student active with the Urban Peace Movement, said he plans to major in political science “because the best way to help our community is to be involved in the political system. Oakland is where I’m from, Oakland is me, I don’t want to leave my culture, my community and my history.”

Participants then broke into over a dozen small groups, to start an intensive “visualization” process.

In one group, a longtime area resident said that of her seven children, 27 grandchildren and several great grandchildren, she’s the only one still in Oakland, while all the rest of her family has been forced by soaring housing costs to move to communities much farther away.

Another said she was being forced to move after her landlord raised the rent on her studio apartment to more than $1,000 per month. She said the landlord claimed he acted “because of rising rents in Oakland.” She is now suing the landlord.

Besides affordable housing, good jobs and a clean and safe environment, among proposals were a community health center, free child and medical care, paid job training, an end to dumping, and a mural arts program to encourage artistic talents now largely engaged in graffiti.

The visions put together by all the groups are now being compiled into a fact sheet that Oakland United will present to the city and county.

Also among organizations participating in Oakland United are the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Causa Justa/Just Cause, Oakland Community Organizations, Alameda County Building Trades Council, UNITE HERE Local 2850 and Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy.

Photo: Longtime East Oakland activist Esther Goolsby, Communities for a Better Environment. Oakland United Coalition Facebook.

Via People’s World