Close to Home: Gut and amend — and cut the heart out of this housing program

  • This artwork by Matt Wuerker relates to the booming housing market and real estate investments.

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.

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