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California’s Last Legislative Session Left Housing Advocates Disappointed

In The Golden State, the February 19 deadline for introducing new bills for this year’s legislative session is history, so housing advocates have a clearer picture of which issues will take center stage in 2021.

Berkley's Terner Center for Housing Innovation Policy Director David Garcia says that, "in the shadow of a raging pandemic and prolonged housing crisis, the 2020 session ended mostly in disappointment as nearly every significant housing-related bill failed to reach the governor’s desk."

"While legislators did pass a critical last-minute bill to stave off a wave of evictions," he said, "other efforts to expand where and what housing can be built largely fell short."

This letdown, according to Garcia, is a product of a session shortened by pandemic-related "idiosyncracies" as well the continued difficulty of passing major housing proposals without broad consensus from the diverse set of stakeholders engaged in the policy process.

That said, the lawmakers statewide agreed that housing will remain a core issue for the California legislature, as many of last session’s ideas have already been reintroduced in the first year of the 2021-22 legislative session, along with a slew of new proposals, Garcia reports.

More than a year ago, Garcia told Bloomberg news that policy must support the creation of more homes. “Broadly speaking, there is no solution to the California housing crisis without the construction of millions of new houses,” he said.

"Bad government"—from outdated zoning laws to old tax provisions benefitting long-time homeowners at the expense of everyone else "has created a severe shortage of houses," noted Bloomberg's Noah Buhayar and Christopher Cannon.  The authors hold that while California's problems were echoing nationwide, the situation in the Golden State was just more "extreme."

Garcia has taken a look at proposals and summarized how this year could be different.

Lawmakers spent the beginning of this year’s session passing much-needed relief to those suffering as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, he says, including eviction moratorium extensions and rental relief aid (landlords who receive such aid in California, in return, must agree to forgive the balance of arrears).

Federal actions have helped Califonia, Garcia says, but much more is required.

"While federal efforts to stabilize the housing market through new rounds of emergency rental assistance relief will ultimately help, California’s share so far represents only a fraction of what is required to adequately address this challenge," he said. "Encouragingly, President Biden has called for an additional $25 billion in rental assistance in early 2021, though this new aid, if it passes, would likely be months from distribution."

Califonia's “Building Opportunities for All” housing package comprises a number of bills that were unable to advance in 2020, including legislation that would allow for ministerial lot splits on single family parcels (SB 9), require cities to allow residential development on commercially zoned property (SB 6), create a streamlining tool for cities to rezone certain areas to allow up to ten units per parcel (SB 10), and expand an existing tool to expedite the CEQA process for larger projects (SB 7).

Garcia points out that, coupled with proposed legislation, Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2021-22 budget new spending and policy priorities would affect California's housing situation. The budget includes $500 million to support the creation of affordable housing through the state’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program.

The Governor also proposed the creation of a new enforcement unit at the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), which would be responsible for monitoring local governments’ compliance with state housing laws.

Garcia, in his summary that can be read in full on ternercenter.berkeley.edu, additionally discusses proposed policy aimed at curbing development fees, creating new ADU financing tools, requiring cities to establish rental registries, and more.

About Author: Christina Hughes Babb

Christina Hughes Babb is a reporter for DS News and MReport. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, she has been a reporter, editor, and publisher in the Dallas area for more than 15 years. During her 10 years at Advocate Media and Dallas Magazine, she published thousands of articles covering local politics, real estate, development, crime, the arts, entertainment, and human interest, among other topics. She has won two national Mayborn School of Journalism Ten Spurs awards for nonfiction, and has penned pieces for Texas Monthly, Salon.com, Dallas Observer, Edible, and the Dallas Morning News, among others.

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