SAN FRANCISCO — More than a dozen long-awaited bills aimed at addressing California’s affordable-housing crisis were signed into law Friday, as Gov. Jerry Brown, big-city mayors and lawmakers celebrated the hard-fought victory — but acknowledged that the legislation was just a beginning and vowed to continue chipping away at the problem gripping the state.
“Today we are here to tell those who are suffering that we hear you and are committed to make housing affordable again,” said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a Santa Monica Democrat.
In the final hours of the legislative session, lawmakers gave final approval to 15 bills that would attack the growing problem in different ways. Two of the bills would create funding for the construction of below-market-rate housing, while others aim to make all housing development faster and cheaper by smoothing the notoriously lengthy and unpredictable government-approval process that has been blamed for the shortage of needed homes.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who called the Bay Area “ground zero of California’s affordability crisis,” spoke of growing tent encampments as well as the super-commuters filling the freeways — “driving from a home they can afford to a job that allows them to afford it.”
“My parting words to you,” she said to state lawmakers, “is that we are not done with this work. When you come back to Sacramento for your next legislative season, please do not say that last season was the season of housing and this year we will move on to something else.”
Schaaf was one of about 100 people gathered on a chilly, blustery San Francisco morning outside Hunter’s View, a public housing project with panoramic views of the city. The modern, angular new buildings in the development were built in part thanks to a state housing program that ran out of funding but would get a new infusion of cash if voters approve an affordable housing bond next year.
Senate Bill 3, by Sen. Jim Beall, D-Campbell, placed a $4 billion affordable housing measure on the November 2018 ballot. Beall has said the bond, if approved, would lead to roughly $20 billion in affordable-housing construction when tax credits and matching funds are included.
Beall stressed that the funding from SB 3 was not certain. “The campaign starts now,” he said in an interview Friday. “We have some hard work ahead of us to talk to the voters about this. I think there’s a pent-up demand for new housing.”
Darlene Fleming, a lifelong San Franciscan who lives in the Hunter’s View development, came out to watch the event and take photos with Mayor Ed Lee. She hoped the new funding for affordable housing also goes to repair current public housing developments, like the elevator in her building that she said remains broken despite residents’ complaints.
“They always make a lot of promises, but nothing happens,” the 69-year-old Fleming said of the politicians pledging support for affordable housing.
One of the bills Brown signed into law — Senate Bill 2, by Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego — creates a permanent source of funding to address homelessness and the need for more below-market-rate housing, collecting roughly $250 million annually from a new fee on certain real-estate documents. Home sales are excluded.
Another, by Bloom, would allow cities to again require developers to include affordable rental units — “and I know they will,” he quipped. Brown vetoed a similar measure in 2013, but signed Bloom’s Assembly Bill 1505.
Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland, said the bills would “tackle the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) obstacles that keep housing from being built” in the Bay Area and across California. Two of her bills, Senate Bills 166 and 167, are aimed at streamlining the development process.
“Getting a permit to build housing should not be a shell game,” she said in an interview Friday. “This doesn’t solve it all, but we’ll have some hope to accelerate building.”
Assemblyman Bill Quirk, a Hayward Democrat, said he was happy with the bills, but he noted that the money they allocated were an order of magnitude less than what’s necessary to tackle the crisis. “We’re talking about $4 billion,” he said. “We need a couple hundred billion.”
Others warned that it will take years to make a dent in a housing shortage that was decades in the making.
The housing package has been championed by trade unions and developers, as well as affordable-housing advocates, for the jobs it will create.
The Van Nuys-based Valley Industry Commerce Association issued a statement ahead of the signing saying that developers have for decades watched as “abuse of environmental laws and convoluted local planning processes” have prevented them from building the housing the state needs.
“We can no longer ignore the crisis this has created, and the shortage of homes for working families is damaging our economy,” said the association’s president, Stuart Waldman. “This package of bills is the right step forward to begin addressing the crisis.”
STATE HOUSING PACKAGE: HIGHLIGHTS
Senate Bill 2, by Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, will create a permanent source of funding for affordable housing, imposing fees of up to $225 on certain real-estate transactions, such as mortgage refinancing. (Home purchases would not be subject to the fee.) It will collect $1.2 billion over the next five years — and would raise a total of $5.8 billion during that time, including federal, local and private matching funds, according to committee estimates. Half of the money it raises in the first year would go to programs to address homelessness.
Senate Bill 3, by Sen. Jim Beall, D-Campbell, will place a $4 billion statewide housing bond on the November 2018 ballot. Like SB 2, it would pay for existing affordable-housing programs in California that used to be supported by funds from the state’s redevelopment agencies, a giant source of money that was slashed in the wake of the Great Recession and never replaced. If the bond measure passes and is approved by voters, $1 billion of the total would go to extend the CalVet Home Loan Program, which is scheduled to expire in 2018.
Senate Bill 35, by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, will try to tackle the state’s housing-supply shortage. Currently, cities are told every eight years how many units they need to build to meet their share of regional demand — but they are not required to build them. This bill aims to make it harder to ignore those goals. It targets cities that fall short, requiring them to approve more housing developments that fit the bill’s criteria until they are back on track.
Senate Bill 167, by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland, strengthens the state’s 35-year-old Housing Accountability Act, known colloquially as the “anti-NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) Act.” Cities that don’t comply with a court order to allow development would be hit with automatic fines of $10,000 per housing unit.
Senate Bill 540, by Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, allows cities to determine where housing needs to be built and to create a specific plan for development in that zone, including public hearings and environmental reviews. This is intended to speed up the approval and construction process.
Assembly Bill 73, by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, will give local governments cash incentives to create high-density “Housing Sustainability Districts” near transit with some affordable housing.
Assembly Bill 1505, by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, restores the ability of local governments to require developers to include affordable rental units. A 2009 appellate court decision cut off that tool, which cities and counties had used for decades. The governor had vetoed similar legislation by Atkins in 2013, arguing that it could make it harder for a city to attract development, but while negotiating the package of bills with lawmakers, Brown agreed to sign it.