San Francisco Chronicle: Brown, lawmakers work on package of bills to solve state housing crisis

August 30, 2017

By Melody Gutierrez

SACRAMENTO — California would take on the problem of soaring rents and a scarcity of affordable homes under a package of housing bills that could come up for a vote as early as Friday.

Legislative leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown have spent the past few days negotiating details in the bills that make up a package of housing solutions and are expected to announce a deal this week.

“This isn’t just a threat to San Francisco,” said Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. “Sometimes housing gets portrayed as a San Francisco/Bay Area problem. This is a contagion that is moving around the state and spreading like wildfire. Parts of California that have always been considered affordable aren’t anymore.”

Among the bills is one that would ask voters to approve $4 billion in bonds next year to build more homes and make existing ones more affordable. Another bill would create a new real estate fee to generate $250 million a year to be spent on alleviating the massive shortfall of housing in the state. Both of those bills would require approval by two-thirds of lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly to reach Brown’s desk. Brown has indicated he supports both bills.

While a deal appeared imminent, legislative sources said the final details were being worked out on exactly how many bills would be included in the package.

Lawmakers are eager to finalize the deal, saying the state’s housing crisis needs immediate attention.

California’s housing shortage was exacerbated when the state cut its 60-year-old program that infused $1 billion a year into redevelopment agencies, which set aside a portion of funding for affordable housing. The loss of that money, along with the existing affordable housing bonds drying up and local governments creating restrictions on developments have led to a decrease in housing stock.

“Every year I’m told next year we will do housing,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, chair of the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee. “We have to get it done now.”

The California Department of Housing and Community Development said over the past decade developers built an average of 80,000 homes in California each year, far short of the 180,000 needed each year. In prior years, about 160,000 homes a year were built.

“The housing crisis not only hurts millions of Californians trying to pay the rent or buy a home, it is a drain on our economy and a danger to our future,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood (Los Angeles County) said in a statement.

SB2 by state Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would create a permanent $250 million-a-year fund for low-income and affordable housing. The fund would be supported by a new $75 to $225 recording fee on real estate documents and property transactions, such as deeds and notices of default. The fee would not include home sales.

Opponents of the bill, including the County Recorders’ Association of California, said the fee would hurt small contractors placing or removing a mechanics lien and others needing to file recording documents.

The bill calls for the bulk of the funding to go to local governments to build housing, make existing housing more affordable with rent subsidies or down payment assistance and create permanent or temporary shelters.

“We have 130,000 estimated homeless people in this state,” Atkins said. “We have many millions more, and I’m not kidding, who are on the verge of homelessness because of rising rents and the inability to own a home.”

SB3 by state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would ask voters in 2018 to approve $4 billion in general obligation bonds to build more rental housing for low-income families and to fund other existing housing programs, such as developments near mass-transit centers. Of that, $1 billion would be slated for the state’s veteran home loan program, which would otherwise run out of money mid-2018.

Beall said lawmakers have been working with a sense of urgency after years of failed attempts to address the state’s housing crisis.

“We are spending billions of dollars on housing in prisons and county jails instead of helping people get into housing in their communities,” Beall said. “I think there is something wrong with that value system.”

So far, the only other bill Brown has indicated he supports is SB35 by Wiener.

SB35 would streamline the approval process for new housing units in cities that aren’t creating the amount set by state law.

Brown’s office did not release additional information on bills the governor supports or opposes, but several others have been included in ongoing discussions with legislative leaders and Brown’s office.

Among those bills are legislation to strengthen the state’s Housing Accountability Act, which bars cities from turning away development for arbitrary reasons, such as complaints by neighbors who oppose change. AB73 by Chiu would give cities financial incentives to rezone developments near mass transit for high-density housing.

“Rent is too high, mortgages are too expensive and workers aren’t able to afford to live in the communities they serve,” Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation said. “Teachers, firefighters and cops always tell us stories of San Francisco and how they have to commute hours to get to work.”

Melody Gutierrez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @MelodyGutierrez

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