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California Still Has The Nation’s Highest Poverty Rate (Blame Housing Costs)

By many measures, California’s economy is doing great. State unemployment is at a record low. Nearly 3 million jobs have been created since early 2010. If California were its own country, it would have surpassed the UK earlier this year to become the world’s fifth largest economy.

But still, nearly one in five Californians live in poverty. That includes 7.5 million residents, more than in any other state. According to statistics released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau, no other state has a higher poverty rate than California’s. Only Florida and Louisiana come statistically close.

But how can so much poverty exist in such a booming economy? The long, complicated answer has to do with the federal government’s different methods for measuring poverty. The short answer? California’s high housing costs.

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New California Law Creates Protections For Immigrant Tenants

The past year has brought new fears and challenges for immigrant and undocumented members of our community. Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that all undocumented immigrants are subject to arrest, detention and deportation, whether they have a criminal history or not. Raids, arrests, and deportations have since skyrocketed, and the heartbreaking stories have included parents being arrested while dropping their children off at school.

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A major California housing bill failed after opposition from the low-income residents it aimed to help. Here’s how it went wrong

Two weeks before state lawmakers halted a plan to aggressively increase housing production near transit locations across California, dozens rallied outside San Francisco’s City Hall to argue their sides.

When Chinese, Filipina and black tenant activists spoke to fears that expanding housing this way will displace residents of their communities, supporters of the measure drowned out their voices with chants of “Read the bill.”

The scene of predominantly white protesters shouting over people of color fed a criticism that has dogged backers of recent legislative efforts to boost home building. In a twist on the term “NIMBY,” these mostly twenty- and thirtysomethings with white-collar jobs are referred to as “YIMBYs,” or “Yes, in my backyard.” Organizations like these have sprung up across California and the YIMBYs argue their efforts will benefit low-income people of color statewide.

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Live Oak evictions break up a close-knit neighborhood

When Maria Anderson moved into a modest rental within walking distance of the beach 13 years ago, she was a mom with a toddler.

“No resources, no partner,” she recalled. “This saved my life.”

Anderson went to Cabrillo, became a nurse, worked at Santa Cruz Women’s Health Center, created a close-knit community with seven other families living there, got engaged to an union electrician with three kids who visit, and had a baby. She was grateful her rent was not escalating — she was paying $975 a month.

Now 38, she is reeling at the news that her landlord sold the property Feb. 12 and the new owner notified everyone to move by April 16.

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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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Eye on the State: This year was all about housing

To great fanfare, Gov. Jerry Brown last Friday finally signed a “package” of housing measures. The political logjam that had stymied affordable housing bills finally broke, with more than a dozen housing bills making it through this year.

The last decade has been a triple nightmare for housing in California: the 2008 Wall Street crash that decimated single-family house construction that once provided the bulk of middle-class starter homes; the governor’s dissolution of redevelopment funding that eliminated more than a billion dollars annually for housing; and the attack by the real estate industry that took away cities’ ability to require affordable “inclusionary” housing. California’s deficit of affordable homes grew to 1.5 million in the last few years, even as the state cut funding for affordable housing by 79 percent.

The SB2 and SB3 funding bills are a helpful shot in the arm — not nearly enough to make up for lost funding, but a good start. SB2 establishes a new document recording fee, which should net San Francisco $5 million to $10 million per year. The SB3 “Veterans and Affordable Housing Bond” will now be on the November 2018 statewide ballot. Helpful as these measures are, their limitations point to the continued need for real, permanent sources of dedicated funding at the local level to meet the scale of The City’s need.

Our local San Francisco nonprofit organizations have produced more than 30,000 permanently affordable housing units, and The City adds more affordable units annually than any other community in California. Clearly, we know how to put resources into brick-and-mortar results on the ground.

Another positive was Brown’s signature on AB 1505. The inclusionary housing bill, originally sponsored in 2011 by then-Sen. Mark Leno, had been previously vetoed by the governor after the real estate industry blocked it. AB 1505 will ensure that communities can once again require a minimum contribution to affordable housing needs by private, profit-driven developers within “financial feasibility.”

Other bright spots less talked about are AB 291, which strengthened nondiscrimination protections for immigrant tenants, and SB 166, which ensures cities actually provide sufficient sites for affordable housing.

We should remember that many of these affordable housing bills have been attempted multiple times in the last half decade — and this year finally broke through, thanks to the urgency of the crisis and the persistence of advocates. Credit should go to Western Center on Law and Poverty, Housing California and Public Advocates in particular, which worked the “inside” of Sacramento but also stayed connected with organizers on the ground and, as best as possible, steered the bills away from deals that would undermine tenants and low-income residents. There was tremendous grassroots advocacy from the statewide Residents United Network and the HousingNow! coalition with in-district visits, capitol visits, lobby days and letter-writing and social media campaigns.

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Bay Area housing pressures continue: Rents climb again

Rents continued to rise across the Bay Area in September, with San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco all registering year-over-year increases, according to a new report. It offers little relief to hard-pressed renters.

The report points out that rent increases are more than a regional phenomenon; they’re happening across California. Still, a spot-check of 17 Bay Area cities — where rents already were sky-high — shows continued increases almost everywhere. That means tenants, who have watched rents climb almost continuously over the last few years, must dig even deeper to get an apartment here.

“Rent increases of this frequency and magnitude are difficult for most working families to absorb, but they’re an absolute disaster for low-income households,” said Jith Meganathan, a policy advocate in Sacramento for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Predicting that more people will be pushed out of the region — or into debt, while struggling to pay for food, medicine and other basic needs — he added, “It’s too easy to say that this is just ‘the market’ at work. Behind these numbers lies a lot of individual suffering.”

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Legislative Housing Package Restores Local Authority for Affordable Housing

Yesterday’s article cited the staff report on the Affordable Housing Workshop, which noted a court decision which held that the Costa-Hawkins Act “precludes local governments from requiring a developer to set affordable rental levels in private rental housing units unless the developer agrees to do so in exchange for financial assistance or other consideration from the local government.”

Under that ruling, in the staff’s view, the city is precluded from “requiring a developer to set affordable rent levels for private rental housing unless the developer has agreed to such rental restrictions in exchange for financial assistance or other considerations from the local government.”

However, the governor signed into law AB 1505 which creates a legislative fix for the problem as it “restores the long-­‐standing authority of local governments to choose to require the inclusion of affordable rental units as one component of their local inclusionary housing policies, if they choose to adopt such policies.”

“Housing costs across the state have increased exponentially and absent corrective action there is no end in sight,” said Assemblymember Richard Bloom, the author of AB 1505.  “Given our state’s severe housing crisis, it is critical that we give local governments every tool to address affordable housing needs.  This bill returns one of our most important and effective tools.”

Inclusionary policies have been utilized in California for decades, dating back to the late 1970s and have proven to be effective tools for producing affordable housing for working families and  creating strong, diverse neighborhoods with a range of housing options.  Approximately 170 cities and counties have some form of inclusionary housing requirement in place as a complement to other local, state and federal programs to address California’s affordable housing shortage.

“Unfortunately, an appellate court decision—Palmer/Sixth Street Properties L.P. v. City of Los Angeles, 175 Cal. App. 4th 1396 (2009)—cut off one crucial option for local governments: the ability to apply inclusionary policies to rental housing,” according to a release from Assemblymember Bloom.

“The Palmer court improperly conflated rent control, which is regulated by the state’s Costa Hawkins act, and deed-restricted affordable housing, which is not, creating uncertainty and confusion for local governments and housing advocates regarding the future viability of this important and well-established local land use tool.”

In response, “AB 1505 was introduced to narrowly focus on allowing local inclusionary polices to require the provision of affordable rental housing if so desired locally, effectively restoring the law as it stood prior to 2009.  AB 1505 does not give local governments any new authority that they did not have prior to 2009, nor does it constrain or dictate in any way what local inclusionary policies should look like.”

Under AB 1505, inclusionary housing remains a local decision, with input from local stakeholders, to determine what mix of policies, if any, make sense for their community.

AB 1505 was sponsored by the California Housing Consortium, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Housing California, Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

“After many months of negotiations with various stakeholders, legislators, and the Governor, we finally have a comprehensive plan to combat California’s affordable housing crisis.  While we have much more work to do, AB 1505 and the many other bills we have passed to provide funding and improve zoning and permitting laws serve as a significant first step,” added Assemblymember Bloom.

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California lawmakers approve bill protecting undocumented immigrant tenants from landlord harassment

California lawmakers, already engaged in a high-profile battle against the Trump administration over its opposition to ‘‘sanctuary cities’’ and ‘‘dreamers,’’ have approved a measure aimed at bolstering the housing rights of undocumented immigrants.

The Legislature passed the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act, which prohibits landlords from reporting, or even threatening to report, the immigration status of their tenants to authorities as a means of harassment or retaliation or to force an eviction. The bill also allows tenants to be awarded monetary damages if their landlord is found guilty of the actions.

Sponsors of the measure say they were spurred by an increased level of harassment by landlords toward undocumented immigrants.

‘‘We were hearing from tenants that were being told that their rents were going to increase, that the water heater wasn’t going to be fixed, or they were going to be evicted,’’ said California Assemblymember David Chiu, a Democrat, who cosponsored the bill with the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

‘‘They were told that if they didn’t do as they were told, immigration authorities were going to be contacted,’’ Chiu said in an interview. ‘‘The fact that we’re in an era where immigrants are under assault and where the threat of deportation is extremely real, in this context, we have seen certain unscrupulous landlords try to take advantage of the situation to pressure higher rents or evictions related to their tenants.’’

The state Senate also voted to make California a sanctuary state. The measure would protect undocumented immigrants from possible deportation by prohibiting local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from cooperating with federal immigration officials. The measure also prevents authorities from inquiring about a person’s immigration status.Lawmakers passed both measures last week.

The Immigrant Tenant Protection Act also prohibits a landlord, including one who takes over a building with existing tenants, from evicting anyone for reasons such as not passing a newly required credit check or not being able to provide a valid Social Security number.

‘‘What we have found is that landlords that had been renting to immigrant tenants for many years are all of a sudden finding excuses to hike up the rents or otherwise establish a pretext for an eviction,’’ Chiu said.

The measure would give tenants whose landlords disclosed or threatened to disclose their status the right to sue for six to 12 times the monthly rent.

‘‘We realized we needed to have some sort of penalty or else these landlords would simply engage in this behavior with impunity,’’ Chiu said. ‘‘Particularly given the skyrocketing rents throughout California, we wanted to make sure there was enough teeth to provide some disincentives to landlords to not engage in the worst behavior.’’

The bill passed 56 to 20 and awaits final signature from Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.

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Western Center on Law and Poverty Releases Affordable Housing Advocacy Manual

Western Center on Law & Poverty released its Affordable Housing Manual, a free, easy-to-understand, comprehensive compendium of tools for advocates seeking to increase the supply of affordable housing. It is designed for housing advocates, grassroots organizers, and community members. Although it contains some California-specific information, it will be useful to advocates everywhere.

In addition to discussing the advocate’s role in planning processes and advocacy strategies, the manual has chapters on using the Census Bureau’s webpage and federal planning documents such as the Consolidated Plan, Public Housing Agency Plans, and Section 3 Plans. Fourteen appendices include a sample Community Benefits Agreement, a sample Citizen Participation Plan, and a housing and land-use glossary.

Affordable Housing Manual was written by long-time advocates Lynn Martinez, Madeline Howard, and others.

Download the manual here