Is "Affordable Housing" an Oxymoron Here? - California's Crazy Housing Market, Part II

  • The Brickhouse Gallery & Art Complex 2837 36th Street Sacramento, CA 95817

 

Listen to the podcast of this discussion here.

Part II of our four-part "California's Crazy Housing Market" series came about because of these three specific events:
* After the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland killed 36 people last December, there was a heated discussion about how the lack of affordable housing for artists and others in the "creative economy" in the Bay Area was to blame.

* After two men who died while camping on Sacramento City Hall property during chilly weather last month, Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced he wanted to let the homeless jump to the front of the line for 1,600 federal housing vouchers-- but an estimated 70,000 applicants are on wait lists in Sacramento County for only 910 spots that open up every year.

* Our Governor has said many times that it's hard to build affordable housing here, and in his latest budget, Jerry Brown made it clear there will be no state funding of affordable housing without significant reform to local laws that block housing growth and construction.

* And then there's the high prices of rentals and homes for sales (which we covered in Part I of this series).

So what does "affordable housing" mean in California, especially when only about 30 percent of state residents can afford the median-priced home? What will it take to make housing affordable -- build more of it, pass some more laws, repeal some others? And with the crazy supply-and-demand status of housing here these days, can it even be done?

PANELISTS

* Melinda Coy, policy specialist for the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the state agency that's tasked with keeping and expandingaffordable housing opportunities for us

* Rachel Iskow, CEO of Mutual Housing, a nonprofit homebuilder that owns and operates 19 affordable-housing communities in Sacramento and Yolo Counties

* Todd Leon, development director at Capitol Area Development Authority, a state-created public agency that acts as a Sacramento-focused land development and property management company

* Darryl Rutherford, executive director of the Sacramento Housing Alliance, a non profit that's promoting affordable housing for low-income and homeless people in Sacramento County

* Sonja Trauss, founder of Bay Area Renters Federation, and leader of the YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) movement to build high-density housing (see the New York Times profile about her efforts)

* Daniel Weisfeld, a consultant at McKinsey & Company's San Francisco office who authored the McKinsey Global Institute’s report “A Tool Kit to Close California’s Housing Gap."

 

RESOURCES

* The McKinsey Global Institute's report on housing in California, with recommendations and suggestions for how to build more of it.

* The Legislative Analyst's Office (the state's version of the U.S. Government Accountability Office) has a report Do Communities Adequately Plan for Housing? which, while not very cheerful, has a good description of how the state, regions and cities currently plan housing and zoning today.

* Local developers who are focused on building more affordable housing in the region include CADA (see their past and present projects) and Mutual Housing (take one of the monthly tours it offers at its housing communities in the area).

* Read more about the YIMBY movement, gathering steam right now in the Bay Area, and about panelist Sonja Trauss' efforts, profiled in the New York Times.

* Some optimism: There are more bills related to affordable housing going through the state legislature today compared to the past. Housing California lists its positions on current bills and "budget" asks.

* State bills focused on affordable housing that panelists and audience members are interested in/excited about include:
     - AB 71: End a tax break that allows homeowners to deduct the interest from the mortgage on their second home from their state taxes.
     - AB199: Require prevailing wages for workers (meaning higher wages for union workers) on projects deemed to have received public funding
     - Rental housing focused bills include AB 352 (construction of microunits), AB943 (anti-growth measures must required a two-thirds vote), and AB678 (local governments must follow certain legal mandates before denying housing projects that comply with their general plan and zoning rules, or else they're penalized fines starting at $100,000, which is placed into ahousing trust fund for the construction of affordable housing).
   - AB1397: adds a number of requirements to the inventory of land suitable for residential development
     - SB2: Impose a $75 recording fee in real estate documents, excluding property sales,  that would go toward building workforce housing, rental housing for farm workers and transitional housing.
     - SB35: Cities not meeting the state's home-building goals and not pulling their weight would be hit with a Sacramento-designed, streamlined development process forcing them to fast-track projects.
     And in Congress, HR948: "The Common Sense Housing Investment Act" would reduce the mortgage interest deduction to a flat 15 percent tax credit for the first $500,000 of debt.