New York Times: California Today: A Political Push for Affordable Housing

September 18, 2017

By Conor Dougherty

Everyone agrees that it costs too much to live in California. Now Sacramento is trying to do something about that.

Last week the California Legislature passed 15 housing bills in a sweeping attempt to tame the state’s astronomical cost of living. Each bill has a different target, but they all aim to increase the pace of new housing construction.

Two of the bills, SB2 and SB3, provide new funding for subsidized affordable housing. Two other measures will make it harder for cities to block new projects: SB35 will streamline the approval process in cities that have fallen behind state housing goals, while SB167 will make it harder for cities to deny home building that complies with local rules.

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign all of the bills.

“This shows that housing has risen to the top of the agenda in California,” said Scott Wiener, the state senator from San Francisco who wrote SB35.

California has never been an especially cheap place to live, but over the past few years the cost of housing has come to overshadow almost every state issue. The state has some of the highest wages in the nation, but also the highest poverty rate once housing costs are factored. The state has set audacious goals for reducing carbon emissions but it is falling behind in part because the lack of affordable housing has forced people to live farther and farther from work.

Part of this is California being a victim of its own success. The state has had a strong economic recovery across several industries, from the Northern California-centered technology sector to a boom in trade and film and television production based in Hollywood and the Southern California ports.

But California is also among the hardest places to build new housing and is falling behind population growth. The state added 544,000 households but only 467,000 net housing units from 2009 to 2014, and that deficit is set to get worse, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

The result is that housing has jumped to the top of Sacramento’s legislative agenda. Mr. Wiener has only been in office for nine months and introduced SB35 as his first bill.

“When I started with SB35 I wasn’t sure how far it would go, so I was surprised how many of my colleagues got it,” he said. “We are moving past the era where every city in California could view itself as an independent kingdom that could refuse to build any housing. Our cities are all interconnected, and housing decisions in one city affect many other cities, and state law needs to reflect that.”

Read California Today in the New York Times here.