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

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