The state Legislature closed down Saturday. Dozens of bills were hastily passed in the final hours of the session, often with no debate.
One big one slipped through under the radar on the last day. Legislators did a “gut and amend” to SB 628, replacing obscure language relating to health insurance with a sweeping new law allowing cities to resume redevelopment programs.
Gov. Jerry Brown had abolished redevelopment in 2011 to help address the state’s budget crisis. His staff participated in secret negotiations to craft the new bill, and he’s expected to sign it.
Assuming he does, cities will be able to set up new redevelopment programs called “infrastructure financing districts,” or IFDs, which will have most of the same powers and functions that the old redevelopment agencies exercised.
But the negotiators left out a key requirement.
The old law authorized cities to redevelop “blighted” areas, which were often neighborhoods where mostly lower-income families lived.
Redevelopment programs helped to modernize the downtown areas of Santa Rosa, Petaluma and many other cities throughout the state, but the lower-income residents of those areas were usually forced to move elsewhere.
For the past 30 years, state law has required cities to set aside 20 percent of the increased property tax revenues from redevelopment projects to build new housing for low- and moderate-income families.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were raised for affordable housing each year, and thousands of units of affordable housing were built with redevelopment funding. That funding stream was the single largest source of local funding to build affordable housing in California.
When the governor abolished redevelopment agencies, that funding was lost.
The new law, SB 628, does not require new infrastructure financing districts to set aside any funding whatsoever for affordable housing or to reduce the gentrification of neighborhoods that inevitably accompanies redevelopment.
The loss of redevelopment funding has been a devastating blow to affordable housing construction.
Very little affordable housing has been built in Sonoma County in recent years, mostly because there’s no more tax increment funding.
Meanwhile, we’re in a housing crisis.
Housing prices and rents have increased by nearly 50 percent since redevelopment was shut down. The vacancy rate for rentals in the county hovers just above 1 percent, and the waiting list for subsidized affordable housing units in the county is five years or more.
Homelessness is on the rise, and it’s common to hear about people leaving the county altogether because of the high cost of housing.
This crisis is not unique to Sonoma County. The majority of elected members of the state Legislature claim to be advocates for working families, and those financially less well off, but they and the governor inexplicably rejected an opportunity to help address this shortage when they left out the 20 percent set aside for affordable housing in this new legislation.
So it’s now up to our city councils and county supervisors. They can allocate a portion of tax increment funds from their infrastructure financing districts to fund affordable housing.
And the cities and county continue to receive the increased property taxes from their old redevelopment projects.
A portion of this money should continue to be set aside to support affordable housing.