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California lawmakers target cities’ ability to block new housing

Build, build, build.

The spirit of housing construction has imbued the state Capitol with renewed fervor this year as Gov. Gavin Newsom and coastal lawmakers push for policies to spur what they say is badly needed development to get soaring rents and home prices under control.

Advocates who work on housing issues in California say the topic is taking center stage like never before, with more than 200 bills introduced this session. The most provocative ideas — and those likely to cause the fiercest legislative fights — challenge the extent to which cities can control what gets built within their boundaries. Several measures would override zoning ordinances and remove other obstacles to make it easier to build housing.

…Anya Lawler, who lobbies for the Western Center on Law & Poverty, said the Legislature has already passed bills in recent years to make housing construction easier and that the state has increased pressure on cities to allow building, such as the lawsuit Newsom authorized in January against Huntington Beach (Orange County). She said the state needs to give those policies a chance to work.

“Now the pendulum has swung very far in the other direction where we’re blaming local governments for everything and using them as a scapegoat,” Lawler said.

Her organization supports efforts to limit rent increases and build more low-income housing. But she warned that overloading cities with aggressive state mandates could frustrate those that are trying to do the right thing without targeting those that have been truly obstinate on development.

“At some point we have to say, ‘OK, here are the rules. Follow them,’” Lawler said. “We’ve reached a point where the number of bills out there is insane.”

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PolitiFact California: Gavin Newsom’s Housing Tax Credit Promise Is ‘In The Works’

On the campaign trail, Gavin Newsom promised a “Marshall Plan” to confront California’s affordable housing crisis. He said he’d help the state build its way out of the problem by cutting red tape and, notably, boosting money for the state’s low-income tax credit by more than five-fold.

Here’s the specific promise now-Gov. Newsom made about the tax credit:

“Increase affordable housing tax credit from $85 million to $500 million, phased in over a few years,” to spur new housing development.

—Gavin Newsom interview with Capital Public Radio on Oct. 5, 2018 and Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website.

…”The state program has been small potatoes and so this would significantly increase the value of the state low-income housing tax credit, which would then allow more investment to flow into affordable housing projects in California,” said Anya Lawler, a housing policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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Western Center housing legislation paves the way for state lawsuit against the City of Huntington Beach

By the Western Center on Law & Poverty Housing Team

Last week, the Newsom Administration announced legal action against the City of Huntington Beach on the claim that the city intentionally violated state housing law. The city has long ignored its obligation to meaningfully plan for and provide housing access to its residents across all income levels, even when the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) offered resources and help to get the city into compliance. Now, under authority provided by a Western Center co-sponsored bill, the California Attorney General is poised to move forward with litigation against the city to enforce the law.

Under California law, all cities and counties must take certain actions to accommodate housing at all income levels to serve existing and future residents. While the law provides flexibility, it does not allow cities and counties to close their borders to growth, or to accommodate only wealthy residents. To ensure that cities and counties are meeting this obligation, they must adopt a general plan, which includes a housing element that analyzes the community’s housing needs and outlines concrete actions—including zoning—to ensure needed housing can be produced.

Part of that commitment includes zoning to allow the development of dense multifamily housing, which is crucial to producing units affordable to lower-income households. Communities must also show how they plan to undo the legacy of racially exclusionary policies like redlining by taking actions to reduce racial and economic segregation. Unfortunately, jurisdictions throughout California have not always complied with the law, which is, in part, how California ended up with a severe shortage of housing relative to its population — a shortage that is most acute at the lower income levels.

To address local jurisdictions’ noncompliance with the state’s planning requirements, Western Center, the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and the California Housing Consortium co-sponsored AB 72 (2017), a bill authored by Asm. Miguel Santiago. Under the new law, HCD must notify local governments when they are violating Housing Element Law and other important housing laws and give the city or county time to address the violation. If the jurisdiction declines to take corrective action, HCD can refer the case to the Attorney General for enforcement. The purpose of the law is to ensure that communities not only adopt housing elements that comply with the law, but also that they carry out commitments made in their housing elements.

Historically, the state has rarely enforced its own housing and land use laws against cities seeking to exclude lower-income residents. This lack of enforcement, combined with the actions of Huntington Beach and like-minded cities, inspired Western Center and its partners to advocate for AB 72.

Huntington Beach has a long history of restricting new housing development in its city limits, particularly the higher-density development that is needed to produce affordable units. In spite of warnings from HCD, the city has continued to restrict development opportunities, exacerbating our state’s housing crisis and leaving the community far short of meeting its fair share obligations under Housing Element Law. Huntington Beach is one of many cities that prompted our coalition to advocate for AB 72, so it is unsurprising that it is the first to be sued by the Attorney General for lack of compliance.

We are pleased to see Governor Newsom taking the state’s housing challenges seriously. In a press release from his office, he recognized the importance of addressing our urgent housing crisis. “The huge housing costs and sky-high rents are eroding quality of life for families across this state. California’s housing crisis is an existential threat to our state’s future and demands an urgent and comprehensive response.”

The state’s housing crisis is in fact an existential threat to our state’s stability and well-being. A comprehensive response requires housing for the 1.5 million lowest income households that currently lack affordable housing, and a commitment to ensuring that no person is forced to sleep on the street.

By eliminating the housing shortage for the poorest Californians, we improve the quality of life for all Californians. We are pleased to see Governor Newsom putting AB 72 to use so early in his tenure, because the state will only solve the housing crisis if Huntington Beach and like-minded cities are held accountable. We hope the Governor’s action prompts other municipalities to take their housing obligations seriously.

Change may be scary for homeowners living in places like Huntington Beach who would prefer for things to remain the same, but with the largest population in the U.S. and the world’s 5th largest economy, California cannot afford to remain stagnant. Nothing is scarier than the prospect of losing access to housing, and that is exactly what Californians across the state are facing as housing becomes more scarce. For the people Western Center serves, that access is already largely non-existent.

The enforcement of AB 72 will help ensure that municipalities develop in ways that consider all residents in their jurisdictions. Our state is too big to be exclusionary — we are thrilled that Governor Newsom recognizes that reality, and is willing to utilize the law to take irresponsible local governments to task.




California sues Huntington Beach to force it to plan low-income housing

The state sued the Orange County city of Huntington Beach on Friday to force it to plan for more affordable housing, part of a campaign by Gov. Gavin Newsom to boost construction in California as residents grapple with soaring housing costs.

Newsom said Huntington Beach has refused to meet a state mandate to provide new housing for low-income people. He promised that cities that do not do their part will be “held to account.”

…The resistance in Huntington Beach was an impetus for AB72, said Anya Lawler, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law & Poverty. Her organization was one of the sponsors of the law.

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Big tech companies have an affordable housing problem

Microsoft is the latest tech giant to fund affordable housing projects in the white-hot real estate market where they are based. As part of a community building initiative in Seattle, Microsoft is pledging $475 million in low-interest loans to support housing construction projects over three years, with another $25 million marked for homelessness. There has been a move by tech companies to address the lack of affordable housing stock in recent years. With rental costs spiking as much as 50 percent in less than a decade in cities like San Francisco, some say it’s about time these tech companies stepped in to help. But is this the best way to solve the housing problem?

Anya Lawler, Western Center on Law & Poverty

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California’s New Governor Would Punish Cities Over Affordable Housing

As part of his first proposed budget, new California Governor Gavin Newsom has floated an idea that would aggressively reform the state’s housing supply laws: Withhold transportation funds from local governments that fail to meet new housing production targets.

“This is a new day and we have to have new expectations, new requirements,” Newsom said at a Thursday news conference following the release of his 2019-2020 budget.

…“I have never seen this kind of attention paid in the budget to homelessness and affordable housing issues,” Anya Lawler, a housing policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, told the CalMatters, a publication covering state politics and policy.

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Gavin Newsom Takes Aim at California’s NIMBYism

Like earthquakes, droughts, and surfing, inadequate and overpriced housing seems to be a permanent part of life in California. It has been blamed for all sorts of maladies, from an epidemic of homelessness to growing emigration by businesses and individuals seeking a more affordable environment. And blame for the housing crisis itself has been attributed broadly to all sorts of causes; conservatives tend to complain about environmental and building regulations, and progressives blast greedy landlords and developers and a state tax code that tends to freeze property ownership. Everyone agrees NIMBYism (“Not In My Back Yard”) and its influence on local governments is a problem.

…Newsom’s budget proposals include a major infusion of more than $1.7 billion in one-time and ongoing affordable housing cash….

“I have never seen this kind of attention paid in the budget to homelessness and affordable housing issues,” said Anya Lawler, a housing policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “Just the page count alone is a little unprecedented.”

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It’s a big deal: Newsom’s housing budget, explained

No wonder Gov. Gavin Newsom dropped those hints earlier this week about an upcoming “Marshall Plan” for affordable housing.

Sure, he’d made ambitious campaign promises to combat California’s housing crisis: leading the effort to build 3.5 million units over the next seven years (an unprecedented rate), jacking up state subsidies for housing reserved for lower-income Californians, and easing regulations so it would be easier to build all types of new housing. But what would he deliver?

…“I have never seen this kind of attention paid in the budget to homelessness and affordable housing issues,” said Anya Lawler, a housing policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “Just the page count alone is a little unprecedented.”

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California governor links housing, transportation money

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a $1.75 billion plan for housing Thursday and threatened to withhold transportation money from local governments that don’t build their fair share, declaring he’s not playing “small ball” on California’s crisis.

The new Democratic governor also proposed spending $500 million for regions to build emergency shelters, navigation centers and other supportive housing to battle the state’s growing number of homeless.

…The issues of housing and homelessness are deeply related in an expensive state where two-thirds of renters pay more than $1,500 a month for shelter, says Paul Tepper, executive director of the Western Center on Law And Poverty, which works on behalf of poor Californians.

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An open letter to Gavin Newsom: Address California’s poverty



By Western Center on Law & Poverty

California has long stood out as a state that innovates and leads. As you begin your term, we at the Western Center on Law and Poverty are ready to work with you to ensure that California lives up to its ideals — including addressing poverty and its subsequent harms.

We are encouraged by your focus on three issues Western Center has worked on for decades and considers critical to advancing basic human rights: ending poverty, solving the housing crisis, and health care for all.

Each of these issues presents an enduring challenge that can be addressed by your administration. We do not simply wish to raise the alarm about the state’s problems — we offer help and solutions.

Western Center advocates on behalf of individuals with low incomes in all branches of government—from the courts to the Legislature. Our ideas come directly from problems low-income Californians experience every day; we propose practical solutions that can be taken to scale in our large and diverse state.

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