‘Housing crisis’ tops California’s legislative agenda this year
Rents are too high. Home prices are out of reach. Decent listings and rentals are hard to find. Homeless encampments are growing. And many residents are cutting back on food, clothing and medical care to keep a roof over their heads.
Now, after years of inaction, Sacramento may be on the verge of doing something about the state’s “housing crisis.”
More than 130 housing bills surfaced this year as of the last count, many of them aimed at addressing the state’s housing shortage, lack of affordable housing and protecting those at risk of losing their homes.
Since some bills have been abandoned or delayed, there isn’t an exact count yet. But one policy advocate said he’s tracking 89 bills, well above the typical 20 to 40 housing bills introduced each year.
High housing costs, a drastic undersupply of homes to buy or rent and the failure of cities and counties to adequately plan for growth is fueling this torrent of new statutes, policy advocates say.
“Just look at the data,” said Alex Creel, chief lobbyist for the California Association of Realtors, citing the state’s latest housing assessment report. “It’s an incredible housing crisis in California.”
According to the state Housing and Community Development Department, California needed 180,000 new homes each year over the past decade but built on average just 80,000 a year. The state will need at least 1.8 million new homes by 2025. At 54 percent, California’s homeownership rate has dropped to the lowest point since the late 1940s. Overcrowding in the state is double the national rate. And while the state has 12 percent of the nation’s population, it has 22 percent of the nation’s homeless.
Growing awareness of these issues is driving state leaders to take action.
“I don’t think anybody recalls a time when there’s been more attention focused on the housing issue,” said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, who has introduced 13 housing bills this year.
Unless something is done, the state will have a housing gap of 3.5 million units in eight years, he said.
“People have come to understand that this is a crisis, and we need to treat it as such and address it accordingly.”
Housing bills introduced this year fall into four key types, legislative staffers said.
Increased funding for affordable housing: Housing advocates note state investment in affordable housing programs has been cut by $1.7 billion because there’s less bond money available and because redevelopment agencies, which used property tax revenue to encourage development in blighted areas, were abolished in 2012. Several bills seek to increase funding for affordable housing for low-income residents.
The three most notable bills are Senate Bill 2, which would raise money for affordable housing by charging a $75 on some real estate documents recorded with the county; SB 3, a $3 million bond for affordable housing production; and Assembly Bill 71, which would eliminate the state mortgage interest tax deduction on second homes used by their owners.
Streamlined approvals for homebuilding projects: State leaders, most notably Gov. Jerry Brown, hope to spur homebuilding by reducing the time and cost involved in getting developments approved by local governments.
One such measure, SB 35, exempts multi-family housing developments from city council or board of supervisors’ review if they’re built on an “infill” site and are in jurisdictions falling behind on housing goals for all income levels, among other conditions.
Stepped-up enforcement of housing laws: Current law requires local governments to provide housing for all income levels within their jurisdictions but lacks adequate enforcement. Several measures seek to put more teeth in the state’s “housing element” requirements.
AB 72, for example, would provide funding to the state Attorney General’s Office for increased oversight of local government compliance with housing laws.
Resident protection laws: Additional measures would protect vulnerable residents, particularly tenants, from displacement.
AB 291, for example, prohibits landlords from evicting tenants based on immigration status.
AB 886 blocks local governments from displacing tenants from illegal housing sites such as the Ghost Ship in Oakland, where 36 people died in a fire. Such an exemption would be granted only if the buildings are safe and landlords are working with cities to make their buildings legal.
Perhaps the most controversial measure introduced this year is AB 1506, a measure that seeks to restore local rent control provisions eliminated with the 1995 passage of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. But all action on that measure has been postponed until next year.
Orange County’s legislative delegation authored at least 10 housing bills this year on topics ranging from housing the homeless to increasing homeowner association disclosure requirements.
Hearing the people
Interest in housing issues exploded last year following numerous reports detailing the extent of the housing shortage and increased media coverage, said Tyrone Buckley, a housing policy director for Sacramento-based Housing California.
Soaring home prices in the Bay Area also was a flashpoint for many, forcing residents to move farther inland, with some commuting to San Francisco from as far away as Sacramento, policy advocates said.
Middle-class residents also were irate after learning their college-educated children couldn’t move back home because housing was too expensive. Employers increasingly complain that high housing costs make it difficult to hire workers.
“It has reached the point where it’s hard to ignore,” said Anya Lawler, policy advocate for the Los Angeles-based Western Center on Law and Poverty. “The crisis is affecting people at higher and higher levels.”
Lawler cited a Bay Area report that the commuter rail service in Marin and Sonoma counties had difficulty hiring workers because of high housing and living costs in those posh communities.
“It’s reached a point where members (of the Legislature) are getting inundated with calls,” Lawler said. ” . It’s craziness that’s showing the gaps between housing costs and incomes.”
Obstacles to passage
Many of this year’s proposals require approval by two-thirds of both the Assembly and Senate for passage since they affect state taxes or revenue.
Even if supporters overcome that hurdle, they then will need a signature from the governor, who scuttled last year’s efforts to fund affordable housing programs by holding out for streamlined approval of new construction. He’s still holding out for regulatory reform, policy experts said.
“The governor was pretty clear,” said Buckley of Housing California. “He won’t spend any money on affordable housing unless there’s streamlining.”
Despite those obstacles, Ray Pearl, executive director of the Los Angeles County-based California Housing Consortium, believes 2017 will be the year the state gets its act together and addresses its housing problems.
The recent passage of a massive funding bill for road repairs shows the governor and Legislature are capable of solving intractable problems, he said.
“Now that there is a plan in place to fix our roads and highways, it’s time to pay attention to the people living on our streets and the many more who are at risk of joining them,” Pearl said.
“The legislative leaders and the government are focused on making progress,” Lawyer added. “I don’t think we’ll get nothing (done).”