Affordable housing

Affordable housing
Affordable housing

A bill passed in November to make it easier for local governments to borrow money for new infrastructure and affordable housing will likely include a major exception: The money cannot be used to buy single-family homes, thanks to a last-minute deal between a leading Democrat and the state’s real estate lobby.

Next Thursday is the deadline for state lawmakers to finalize their favorite initiatives for the Nov. 5 ballot, making these final weeks of June peak sausage-making season at the state Capitol.

The affordable housing measure is a prime example of legislative bratwurst.

The background story

Last year, Democratic Rep. Cecilia Aguiar-Curry of Davis pushed through a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would lower the hurdle for local infrastructure and housing bonds. Currently, that hurdle is an increased two-thirds majority of voters. Aguiar-Curry’s proposal, which failed three times in the legislature until last session, would lower that number to a more attainable 55%.

Although the amendment passed last year, some questions about its implementation remained unanswered. Two bills – ACA 10 and AB 2813 – were introduced to fine-tune the amendment, leading to a new round of negotiations that lasted for months.

After obtaining an exemption for the purchase of single-family homes as well as duplexes, three-family homes and four-family homes, the California Association of Realtors announced that it would no longer oppose the bill – and thus the November 5 ballot proposal.

“Over the course of several months, the author, her staff and stakeholders were able to reach an agreement that addresses the concerns raised by CAR. CAR would like to thank the author for her leadership and tireless commitment to ensuring that homeownership can become a reality for generations of Californians,” the organization’s lobbyist, Vanessa Chavez, said in a letter obtained by CalMatters.

The association did not respond to a request for comment late Friday.

What the measure would achieve

The ballot proposal would still allow the issuance of local bonds to provide money to build smaller, affordable housing units. The ban applies to the purchase of existing homes – one of real estate agents’ sources of income.

The neutrality of real estate agents – who are regularly among the highest campaign donors in California – is a political victory for the initiative’s supporters.

But many of the constitutional amendment’s supporters are not happy with the last-minute agreement. Earlier this week, a coalition of tenants’ rights groups, “Yes in My Backyard” activists and legal aid associations wrote a letter urging Aguiar-Curry not to accept the deal with the brokers because it would “enshrine discriminatory housing policies in state law.”

Why some people are unhappy

Even symbolically, the exemption of single-family homes from a nationwide affordable housing policy is difficult to swallow, says Francisco Dueñas, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Housing Now!

“The single-family housing map we have now is the result of a lot of redlining, the racist systems we’ve had in the past,” he said. “If we say again that these areas are not eligible for these solutions, are we further entrenching the legacy of these racist policies?”

Dueñas also said the new restrictions on bond funds would prevent local governments from pursuing novel approaches to promoting affordable housing, such as community land trusts.

About the exceptions to the exemption

Although the brokers won an important exemption, there are exceptions to this one. Local governments could still use the funds to buy homes and reserve them for “survivors of domestic violence, refugees or people with developmental disabilities.”

Simplifying the issuance of housing bonds is a top priority for affordable housing advocates this year, especially for residents of the San Francisco Bay Area, where a first-of-its-kind regional housing finance authority plans to issue up to $20 billion in a bond to finance housing projects across the region if voters approve it in November.

If affordable housing is important to you

At the local level, you can do the following:

For people living in LA, Supervisory Board And City council have the greatest impact on housing affordability in your neighborhood.

The best way to keep an eye on your own local government is to attend public meetings of your city council or local boards. Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Find meeting schedules and agendas: City councils typically meet at least twice a month, but larger ones may meet weekly. Committees and boards tend to meet less frequently, usually once a month. You can find the meeting schedule and agenda on your local government’s website or by posting them at your local city hall. Find more tips here.

  • Learn the jargon: Closed meetings, consent calendars, and more! We have definitions for commonly used terms here.
  • To post public comments: At any public meeting, community members may provide comments, whether or not the item is on the agenda. The meeting agenda will include specific instructions for public comments. More details can be found here.

What questions do you have about Southern California?