This editorial is from the San Diego Union-Tribune:
The state Legislature convened its new session on Monday, and for the third straight year there is — rightly — plenty of early focus on legislation addressing the housing crisis. It’s smart given that the cost of living, namely the extreme cost of housing, is why California has the nation’s highest poverty rate.
So are the Democrats who have a remarkable three-quarters majority in the Assembly and nearly the same advantage in the Senate ready to improve this situation? Or are they only willing to work on the margins to yield less consequential results?
One lawmaker who’s thinking big is state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. He’s already introduced Senate Bill 50, a refined version of an unsuccessful measure he wrote last session to make it easier to add four- to five-story apartment buildings near transit centers without local government OKs.
To respond to criticism of his previous legislation, the measure includes a provision to prevent the displacement of renters. It also weakens zoning rules to promote construction in affluent areas near work centers, even if they don’t have access to transit. And to address concerns that his bill might spur gentrification, Wiener would allow communities that had such worries to delay implementation of the measure for five years and to offer different plans to achieve new housing construction.
Given that 97.6 percent of cities and counties in California haven’t met state-mandated housing obligations, that last provision is troubling. Local officials would likely use it to force delays, just as they use present laws to block new construction. But Wiener has to make concessions to get this version through since his last bill died quickly — and even a weaker bill has a better shot of adding housing stock than other proposals to emerge to date.
Tellingly, however, far more Democrats spent Monday touting their support for more government-subsidized housing. Thirteen Assembly members, including San Diego’s Todd Gloria, introduced a bill to revive redevelopment agencies, which were allowed to keep a share of property taxes that would otherwise go to schools and local governments. Gov. Jerry Brown ended redevelopment in 2011, grabbing redevelopment funds to address the state’s then-huge deficit — a big change that was eased by redevelopment’s spotty record of scandal and abuses.
Yes, government-subsidized housing should be part of an all-of-the-above strategy to address the housing crisis. Gloria says redevelopment that’s tightly regulated and focuses on affordable housing and infrastructure has great promise, and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s rumored interest in reviving redevelopment could clear the way for it to happen.
But what Gov. Jerry Brown said in January 2017 is as true as ever: “We’ve got to bring down the cost structure of housing and not just find ways to subsidize it.” Instead, he said, the focus should be on increasing private home-building: “What we can do is cut the red tape, cut the delays, cut whatever expenses we can afford to do without to make housing more affordable and therefore increase the stock and therefore hopefully bring down the costs.”
The Wiener-Brown view is the one that has great promise. Adding subsidized housing that helps relatively few families — at a staggering average per-unit cost of $425,000 among 100-unit affordable housing projects — is a lesser part of the equation. The same problem that a 2003 Public Policy Institute of California report identified remains in place: It’s unclear whether the state’s goal is actually substantially increasing housing or merely ensuring the “equitable distribution of affordable housing.”