Editorial: California must stop botching affordable housing

One of the biggest disappointments of last year’s legislature was the failure to pass Senate Bill 679, which would have created an independent agency to secure funding for much-needed affordable housing across Los Angeles County.

The ambitious bill, penned by Senator Sydney Kamlager, a Los Angeles Democrat, would have created the Los Angeles County Affordable Housing Solutions Agency to build new homes, maintain existing affordable housing, and provide tenants with services such as emergency assistance and access to rent legal assistance Settlement of disputes between landlords and tenants. The agency would have received its funding through voter-approved tax or borrowing measures. In addition, the agency could have applied for grants from the federal and state governments.

Yes, the legislator has passed a package of laws aimed at increasing the supply of housing. These include the controversial Senate Draft 9, which allows up to four residential units on a single-family property, and the Senate Draft 10, which makes it easier for cities to rededicate any urban property or property adjacent to it for building up to 10 units. Governor Gavin Newsom signed them all into law.

But Senate Bill 679 has stalled. That was a loss to LA County, which needs hundreds of thousands of affordable homes to keep more people from becoming homeless.

The bill was negotiated after the Senate passed it in the Assembly, which was reportedly embroiled in a longstanding dispute between lawmakers and the powerful state building and construction council, which represents a large number of skilled workers. The politically influential union had opposed a number of bills in recent years to streamline housing permits or relax local building codes, unless the law required at least a third of the construction workers on the projects to graduate from general union apprenticeships must be. Frustrated by these demands, meeting speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) held up a number of housing laws, including SB 679, to get the union to agree something more acceptable to developers and lawmakers.

When the legislature reassembled in January, there was some talk of using a go-for-broke approach that could have got the bill through the congregation, and with Newsom’s signature, SB 679 could have come into effect this month . This would have created the new agency and allowed proponents to collect signatures to put a multi-million dollar statewide tax on home sales on the 2022 ballot to fund the agency. But no one, including Kamlager, seems to be going for that option.

If SB 679 is approved later this year, a revenue-generating tax measure could not be available until 2024 at the earliest. The tax could raise more than half a billion dollars a year and help the agency build or maintain 100,000 affordable units over time or next decade.

This bill is just too important not to become law. The housing authority would provide a much-needed statewide vision for affordable housing, encourage collaboration between the county’s cities and, perhaps most importantly, secure funding to ensure the poorest residents have stable housing. Fewer than 10 of LA County’s 88 cities donate local dollars to create or maintain affordable housing. This agency could change that.

Kamlager says she did everything in her power to resolve the dispute – meeting with stakeholders, considering amendments, “and even lighting candles.”

At the moment, this bill has stalled because the meeting leadership and the works council have not yet reached an agreement on a labor standard, said Erin Lehane, spokeswoman for the council, who says union officials have made various proposals. As for the union’s concerns, workers who build and install plumbing in homes for the impoverished should not earn enough to join their ranks. But the heads of state cannot postpone changing housing laws like SB 679 while various interest groups argue. Ultimately, the passing of these laws is a unilateral decision by the legislature. Rendon and other politicians should offer the union a fair compromise and take action on this and other major housing laws.

The lack of affordable housing is arguably California’s biggest crisis, and nowhere is the problem more pressing than in Los Angeles County. To let this bill die would be a farce. It is time for state lawmakers to prove that they not only understand this, but are willing to do something brave to address it. That includes passing SB 679 and launching the Los Angeles County’s Affordable Housing Solutions Agency.

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