California Dream

California moves to relieve housing crisis with key legislative wins

Architecture City Terrain Urbanism
California moves to relieve housing crisis with key legislative wins (Courtesy Ken Lund/Wikimedia)
California moves to relieve housing crisis with key legislative wins (Courtesy Ken Lund/Wikimedia)

Several bills aimed at alleviating California’s persistent and worsening housing affordability crisis advanced through the state legislature late last night, re-igniting the state’s housing activists and raising hopes that housing relief is on the way. The six initiatives address different facets of the crisis, but have been seen as a collective success and an initial step toward more full-fledged efforts by the state to rein in skyrocketing rents and reverse the housing shortage.

The California State Assembly passed Senate Bill 2 (SB 2)—the most controversial of the batch—a proposal that adds $75 to a $225 fee to mortgage refinances and other real estate transactions, excluding home and commercial property sales. The fee is projected to raise $250 million per year for low-income affordable housing, and provide a permanent and consistent funding source to rehabilitate and expand that market, the Los Angeles Times reported. When matched with federal, local, and private funds, it is estimated that the fee could raise over $5 billion for such housing over the next five years, according to The Mercury News.

Senate Bill 3 (SB 3), also passed Thursday night, paves the way for a $4 billion bond designed to finance low-income housing development and provide mortgages to military veterans to go onto the 2018 statewide ballot. Providing housing for formerly-homeless veterans has been a particular focus of ongoing housing efforts across the state.

Senate Bill 35 (SB 35) would streamline the approval of housing development, requiring cities and counties to develop land use plans that include a housing element and hold municipalities accountable to those figures.

Senate Bill 166 would also pressure municipalities to meet their housing goals while also forbidding them from lowering residential density in their respective zoning codes to reduce the overall number of required units.

Senate Bill 167 would strengthen the state’s Housing Accountability Act—which compels municipalities to approve low-income housing projects, among other types of housing—by fining municipalities automatic fines of $10,000 per unit of unbuilt housing resulting from their violation of the act. Various municipalities around the Bay Area have caused controversy in recent years for violating the act, which in turn, has resulted in lawsuits from housing activists.

Senate Bill 540 incentivizes “workforce housing opportunity zones” by allowing municipalities to adopt specific plans for local areas that are particularly in need of housing. The bill would streamline redevelopment efforts, especially in relation to California Environmental Quality Act approvals.

Both SB 2 and SB 3 cleared the California State Senate earlier this year; those bills and the four additional measures will head back to that chamber for final approval today before being sent to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. Brown has until October 15th to veto or sign the bills.

Related Stories