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.