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Inside a Capitol fight over housing

The housing crisis — “debacle” might be a better way of putting it — has no quick or easy solution.  For decades, housing production has not kept up with population growth in California, leaving Californians to struggle with soaring bills, longer commutes and more people living under one roof.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), representing a district that includes some of the highest rents in the nation, shepherded Senate Bill 35, which seeks to expedite construction when local governments do not meet their housing goals. It was part of  a package of housing bills that made it through the Legislature this year and were signed by Gov. Brown.

“When I introduced the bill I thought it would die, given what happened with the governor’s bill last year,” Wiener said. “When I talked with senators and Assembly members, I was surprised by how broadly they got it — even among members who I thought wouldn’t support it, (but who) supported it without hesitation.”

Wiener cobbled together a coalition of labor unions, environmental groups, affordable housing advocates and developers. The fiercest opposition came from local governments.

In the end, SB35 was supported by an array of organizations, including the California League of Conservation Voters, the State Building and Construction Trades Council, Non-Profit Housing Association of California, NextGen, and Facebook.

The California Building Industry Association and the Western Center on Law and Poverty took a position of “support if amended.”

The CBIA had problems with the some of the provisions in SB35, specifically the inclusion of the prevailing wage for projects, which Democrats strongly supported.  The prevailing wage, essentially, is the union-level wage in the largest city of the county where the project is located.

The Western Center on Law and Poverty, which supports affordable housing, derived benefit from the negotiations.

“Everybody knew the governor wanted streamlining and we were able to use that to deliver other critical housing policy reforms and get funding,” said the Western Center’s Anya Lawler.

 

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