San Francisco Chronicle Editorial: Sacramento had one focus in 2017, and it was California’s housing crisis
California’s housing crisis was Sacramento’s major focus in 2017. While housing affordability will remain a serious challenge for the state in 2018 and beyond, the state Legislature’s actions this year made it clear that this issue has our leaders’ full attention at last.
“It’s been a big year, and we’ll have to ensure that this year’s bills are enforced properly,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. Wiener wrote SB35, one of 2017’s most important housing bills. It requires cities and counties to approve certain projects that comply with existing zoning requirements if these jurisdictions have failed to meet their home-building targets.
The housing crisis is a many-tentacled beast. It had multiple causes and will require multiple solutions. The 15 major bills passed in 2017 are just the beginning of a long process that will require every Californian to rethink how and where we live in this state.
“We have to continue to look at ways to ease the approval process for housing production, we have to continue to look for ways to fund affordable housing, and next year we’ll need to look at exclusionary zoning,” Wiener said.
Public funding for housing production, especially the lowest-income housing, is important because the private market is unlikely to meet the demand. This need has grown far greater since 2012, when the state did away with redevelopment agencies at the tail end of a brutal recession.
SB2, from state Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, establishes a $75 fee on real estate transactions (excluding new home purchases) to create a fund for affordable housing. The fee is expected to generate $200 million to $300 million per year. SB3, from state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, is a $4 billion affordable housing bond measure that will be on the ballot in November 2018.
A third bill in the package, AB571, is designed to improve a current state tax credit for farmworker housing development.
The most controversial new laws address California’s housing crisis by lowering barriers to development in local jurisdictions and pushing local governments to fulfill their responsibilities to add housing units.
Local governments may cherish their control over land use, but their collective choice to say no has been a major driving force behind our current crisis.
SB35 is the major new law dedicated to rebalancing this inequitable status quo. It’s the stick to two other carrots being offered to local governments in the form of SB540, from state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, and AB73, from Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco.
SB540 invites local governments to apply for state grants to cover the cost of creating zones designated for expedited housing development, where at least half of the homes will be affordable to low- or moderate-income people. AB73 offers incentives to local governments that complete environmental and planning reviews in advance, so affordable housing can rapidly be built within those areas.
Historically, there haven’t been very many mechanisms to ensure that local jurisdictions were implementing their housing production goals.
AB1397, from Assemblyman Evan Low, D-San Jose, SB166, from state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and AB879, from Assemblyman Tim Grayson, D-Concord, require local governments to continually update their general plans with realistic housing goals and to mitigate constraints on housing development such as long permitting times.
These bills will be complemented by Skinner’s SB167, which increases the burden of proof on local governments to reject or require downsizing of a housing project that includes affordable units.
Finally, there’s a strong statement of the state’s new focus in AB1505, from Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica. AB1505 allows local jurisdictions to have inclusionary zoning policies for rental housing, overruling a 2009 court decision.
AB1505 is a statement about equity — and so is all of Sacramento’s effort on housing this year. California won’t work if only the wealthiest people can afford to live here.