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

San Jose coalition for affordable housing wins big

november 26 2014

SAN JOSE, Calif. – A broad coalition pressing the City Council for a fee on developers of “market-rate” housing to fund affordable housing for working families won even more than they were asking for on Nov. 18, as the City Council not only passed the fee but also committed itself to exploring other funding sources for the same purpose, including a county-wide tax and a fee on commercial developers.

San Jose, which advertises itself as “the capital of Silicon Valley,” has one of the highest housing costs in the nation, as well as – not coincidentally – one of the highest rates of homelessness. The high-tech industry, including such tech behemoths as Apple, Google, and Facebook, generates enormous wealth for the tech élite, but families with less than a six-figure income are out of luck in finding housing they can afford. According to official estimates, an income of $107,000 is required to afford the rent on an average apartment.

The city used to receive $40 million a year from the state Redevelopment Agency to build affordable housing, but those funds disappeared in 2012 when Governor Jerry Brown dissolved the Agency, creating a major crisis for the whole region. Not only are working families suffering, forced into homelessness or into doubling or tripling up in substandard housing, but also businesses are complaining that they cannot attract workers because of the high cost of housing.

In response, affordable housing advocates assembled a coalition to press for a housing impact fee, an approach that has worked successfully in other cities in the region and elsewhere. The logic of the fee is simple: Every individual or family that moves into market-rate housing requires services – police, sanitation, retail, and others – staffed by workers who can’t afford the city’s inflated housing costs. So it’s reasonable to ask the developers of market-rate housing to pay toward providing housing for these needed service workers. A study commissioned by the city showed that the developers could pay a fee of up to $28 per square foot without significantly cutting into profits or raising rents.

A leader in building the coalition to support this fee was the Sacred Heart Housing Action Committee (SHHAC), a group of activists operating out of Sacred Heart Community Services, an organization that began in 1964 as a social service agency and over the past five years has turned itself into a major center for community organizing in San Jose. SHHAC helped pull together a broad spectrum of allies around this issue, including Working Partnerships, a community organization allied with the South Bay Labor Council AFL-CIO, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a business organization wielding considerable clout in the region, the Affordable Housing Network, and charitable agencies such as United Way and Catholic Charities. Through intensive grassroots organizing, SHHAC was able to bring to the City Council over 3,000 letters demanding that the fee be passed at the highest possible level.

A rally organized by SHHAC in front of City Hall fired up around 200 activists before they went in to the council chambers to testify and show their support for the measure. Pat Farrow of SHHAC opened the event by pointing out the sort of activists and leaders that make up SHHAC: people like herself, a senior on fixed income; like Robert, a homeless man who has a voucher for low-income housing but finds that every apartment that will take it has a long waiting list; or like Jolene, who has been on 20 housing lists but has yet to find a place. She described the two-year struggle that SHHAC and its allies have conducted: “When the city lost redevelopment funds, SHHAC went into action.” To loud cheers, she declared, “We have waited two years for this day, and finally it’s here – we have been heard. People who work here should be able to live here!”

Shiloh Ballard, vice-president of Silicon Valley Leadership Group for Housing and Community Development, reported that her organization, which represents some 400 businesses in the area, asks its members every year what the biggest impediment is to doing business here, and every year they get the same response: Housing.

Hip-hop artist Andrew Bigelow roused the crowd with a song about the inequities of life in Silicon Valley: “There’s lots of gold, but not enough to go around – somebody’s robbing somebody!” “We live in one of the wealthiest places in the world,” he said, “yet we have people freezing on the streets.”

SHHAC activist Anthony King told of being homeless from 1998 to 2103: “I have lived in numerous tents along the Guadalupe River,” a favorite haunt of many homeless in the city. He told of finding help from a non-profit, but the going was still tough. He got a Section 8 voucher for low-income housing, but he went to many places only to find himself outbid by someone willing to pay above market rate, until finally, with the help of his case manager, he found an apartment. “But the point is not to dwell on my success,” he said, “but to think of the thousands who haven’t found housing. Today we have an opportunity to rectify this situation with an affordable housing impact fee!”

Rebecca Irelan, pastor of Willow Glen United Methodist Church in the center of San Jose, spoke of her morning spent helping someone find a rental van for their belongings so they could move out of the area because they couldn’t find affordable housing – a very usual occurrence in her work. “If we want God to have a home in this valley,” she declared, “we must make homes for God’s people. Not just for some people, not just for those who have high-paying jobs, but for all people.”

Pat then asked people to turn to their neighbor and ask whether they had ever struggled to find affordable housing in the city. Complying, this writer got a powerful lesson in the extent of the housing crisis. Valerie, who recently got a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard – not the sort of school whose graduates are expected to wind up homeless – said she had spent the last several months sleeping on her sister’s couch, along with twelve other people who couldn’t find a place to live within their means.

The activists then filed into the council chambers, filling over half the pubic seats, and gave testimony after testimony to the depth of the crisis: Long waiting lists for low- or even middle-income housing, no affordable housing for students or even graduates of San Jose State University, lifelong residents of the city forced to move away for lack of housing, people repeatedly forced into homelessness as landlords jacked up rent.

A few opponents of the measure from the real estate industry tried to put up a smokescreen, overstating the fee’s cost to developers, property owners, and renters of market-rate housing and forecasting an end to housing development if the measure passed – despite the fact that neighboring cities have instituted similar fees without any of these consequences.

The Council was not fooled and passed the measure seven to three. In an additional, and unexpected, victory, it added two provisions that the affordable housing coalition had not even asked for. One, proposed by progressive councilmember Don Rocha, committed the city to investigate other sources of housing funding, including a fee on commercial developers. In an ironic twist, the other came from councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio, a notorious fiscal conservative, who, in an effort to derail the impact fee, proposed that the city ask the county to consider a county-wide tax to support affordable housing, only to see his proposal added to the resolution instituting the fee.

So when they went across the street to 4th Street Pizza, the activists had plenty to celebrate.

Photo: AP

Via People’s World