KQED News: Sen. Scott Wiener Wants California Cities to Build More Housing

December 10, 2016

As a San Francisco supervisor, Scott Wiener has made housing one of his top priorities.

That’s not going to change now that he’s a state senator.

Within hours of being sworn in this week, Wiener introduced legislation aimed at encouraging — and in some cases forcing — cities around California to approve more housing development, especially affordable projects. It’s modeled in part on a law he pushed in San Francisco and in part on a controversial failed proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Sacramento must be part of the solution to California’s housing shortage, said Wiener, whose Senate bid received significant support from real estate interests.

“The housing crisis is not just about it being hard for people today to find housing — that is a huge problem, and the housing crisis fuels evictions, displacement and makes it hard for families to grow,” he said. “But the housing crisis is also threatening our economic growth in California — if an employer believes its workers will not be able to find housing near the workplace, that employer is going to decide to locate elsewhere or to grow its workforce in another state.”

Wiener said he’s learned some important lessons from Brown’s failure and his time in San Francisco. The governor’s proposal — which sought to speed up the local approval process for projects that included some  low-income housing — was opposed by labor, environmental and affordable housing groups as well as cities and counties.

“I give the governor enormous credit for calling the question,” Wiener said. “It didn’t work out … my hope is we can avoid some of those flareups by working collaboratively with some of the stakeholders.”

Details of Wiener’s proposal are still being crafted, but in general it has two prongs: The first is based on legislation he successfully pushed in San Francisco, and would exempt 100 percent affordable housing developments around the state from some local development requirements. The second part would punish cities that don’t meet their building goals, which are set through a state process. The bill calls for the streamlining of developments in cities that don’t meet those goals — essentially, builders would be able to skip some local requirements if they are constructing homes in places that haven’t built aggressively enough.

Wiener said it’s not fair for some communities to shoulder the burden of housing expansion while others refuse to add affordable or even market rate units.

“Housing is no longer a city-by-city, siloed issue. It is a statewide need and the state has a role to play,” he said. “We want to maintain local control — communities should have a strong voice in their own future — but there have to be boundaries, and it’s not acceptable for cities or towns to simply opt out of creating housing.”