There’s more than one housing bill in California

Mayfair housing development renderingYesterday, SB 50 was held in the Senate Appropriations Committee until 2020. It was all over the news. The Governor registered his disappointment (though he hadn’t endorsed the bill previously). Housing Twitter howled. Colleagues kept popping into my office saying, “did you hear?”

California urgently needs more homes, especially affordable ones, near high-quality transit and job centers. SB 50 is a serious and significant attempt to address our housing production problems, and it deserves attention and debate. We deeply appreciate the work that Senator Scott Wiener and his staff, as well as many of our allies, have put in to make this bill powerful, fair, and effective. We look forward to its revival next year. 

But SB 50 wouldn’t solve every housing problem, nor should it have to. It’s one bill! We need a wide range of solutions to preserve existing affordable housing, protect vulnerable renters, and increase the supply of housing, especially affordable homes. And there are larger structural issues behind the housing crisis we also need to address, from parking minimums to the legacies of racial segregation.

Now's a good time to remember the many groundbreaking housing bills that are still alive and well in this legislative session. These include critical tenant protections that can immediately help stop the bleeding while we figure out how to increase housing production, which will take years. The CASA Compact includes 14 housing-related bills, and 13 of them are still in play.

While SB 50 is on the back burner, it would be great if those housing advocates who've been super focused on it put some energy behind these other important bills.

Meaningful renter protections:

AB 1481 (Bonta - Oakland) would put Just Cause Eviction protections in place for most rental housing in California. That means landlords will need to have a reason to evict their tenants, such as lease violations. Currently less than 20 cities in California have such protections on the books, which means most tenants can be evicted for any reason, or no reason at all. Passing AB 1481 would be a huge win for vulnerable renters and would help slow the pace of displacement and gentrification.

AB 1482 (Chiu - San Francisco) would impose a reasonable cap on annual rent increases for most rental properties throughout the state. This would prevent the price gouging that has become such a huge problem, while still giving landlords plenty of room to make a reasonable rate of return on their properties. The cap would be 5% above the price of the unit over the previous 12 months, plus the percentage change in the cost of living.

The two bills above are part of the Keep Families Home Bill Package, and it’s critical they both pass together. As our friends at the Housing Now coalition point out, if landlords can evict tenants to get around a rent cap, then it's not a very effective protection against rent-gouging. Similarly, if landlords can raise the rent on existing tenants by exorbitant amounts, they can, in effect, get around Just Cause protections. Take action to support these bills!

SB 18 (Skinner - Berkeley) would expand state funding for rental assistance and legal aid for residents facing eviction. It would also extend some eviction protections that would otherwise expire at the end of this year, and require key information about applicable laws and resources be made available on the Department of Consumer Affairs’ website.

SB 529 (Durazo - Los Angeles) protects tenants’ right to organize by protecting them against retaliatory evictions. Currently, tenants who attempt to assert their lawful rights are extremely vulnerable. Too often, they stay silent and endure terrible conditions, especially in tight housing markets. This bill would allow tenants of three or more units owned by the same property to form a tenants association and, if necessary, organize a rent strike without fear of retaliation while the strike is under way. Rent strikes must follow certain rules to be lawful, and would be limited to a set number per year.

Reducing barriers to housing production

AB 1486 (Ting - San Francisco) would facilitate the development of under-utilized public land for affordable housing. Redeveloping unused public land would not only help create more affordable homes throughout the state, it would advance our climate goals by increasing affordable infill development near transit and jobs. This bill needs your help to pass! Take action with our friends at the Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California.

AB 1487 (Chiu) would authorize the creation of the Housing Alliance for the Bay Area (HABA), a new intergovernmental entity with the power to raise and allocate funds for more affordable homes and protections for long-term residents and renters throughout the Bay Area. This would help fill the gap created by the loss of redevelopment agencies and the subsequent patchwork of city and countywide efforts to fund affordable housing, which do not reach all the region's communities. This bill needs your help to pass! Take action with our friends at the Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California.

AB 1279 (Bloom) would facilitate denser affordable housing development where it is most needed. The bill identifies high-resource areas with strong indicators of exclusionary patterns (both racial and economic) and subjects these areas to zoning overrides to encourage the production of both small-scale market-rate housing projects and larger scale mixed-income affordable projects. The bill is co-sponsored by our friends at the Western Center on Law and Povery, the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and Public Advocates.

AB 68 and AB 69 (Ting) both aim to ease restrictions on and reduce the cost of building “Accessory Dwelling Units,” smaller units on existing lots (aka granny flats, in-law units, or casitas). Several cities have already taken steps to spur the construction and permitting of ADUs, and this bill would boost those efforts and fill the gap in other cities. ADUs are a promising solution since they tend to be relatively affordable, add density to single-family neighborhoods without major zoning changes, and also provide income and options for homeowners who want to age in place.

What does TransForm think about SB 50?

We’ve been following the bill closely since last year when it was SB 827. TransForm didn’t take a formal position on SB 827, and we haven’t taken one yet on SB 50. We’re encouraged by many of the changes the bill has undergone, and we'll keep analyzing the bill's impacts and working with allies on both sides of the issue, as well as Senator Wiener's office, to make it as balanced and effective as possible.

For example, one important issue that remains with SB 50 is the need to ensure deep affordability near transit. Currently there’s an “in-lieu fee” option in the bill that could allow developers to build dense market-rate housing near transit and pay into an affordable housing trust fund to put affordable units somewhere else.

SB 50 may be on ice for now, but this issue isn’t going away. And clearly, there’s more work to do to get it through the legislature. 2020 will be here before we know it.

In the meantime, there are a lot of other promising housing bills on the table that need full-throated support to pass. If they do, we’ll be able to say 2019 was California’s biggest year for housing reform in decades. Then we’ll work to make 2020 just as big, if not bigger.


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