Report: California Should Treat Housing Crisis like Climate Change

The California Apartment Association released a report on what it will take to solve the state's chronic housing shortage. Cities that are loath to permit new residential developments, both affordable and market rate, will not be pleased.

4 minute read

January 1, 2017, 11:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

The California Apartment Association's report is based on its Sept. 30, 2016 California Housing Forum held in Sacramento, which brought diverse stakeholders, including environmentalists, labor leaders, developers, economists, and legislators, to tackle the state's chronic housing shortage.

"Robert Wassmer, director of Cal State Sacramento’s urban land development program, said it is too easy for cities to turn down housing projects for low-income residents," reports Phillip Molnar for the Los Angeles Times.

“Local governments will say they can’t possibly approve housing because there is too much political resistance and it is too big of a cost,” he said. “Right now, they can say that without putting any dollars forward.”

Wassmer, who attended the forum [and participated in the second panel], said penalizing communities that deny new projects would give politicians cover to approve such projects.

The "Key Findings Report" on the forum offers two strategies, interestingly both based on existing measures to reduce carbon emissions created by legislation and regulation by the California Air Resources Board, for cities to change their restrictive growth policies:

Among the other suggestions listed in the report:

  • Revisit Gov. Jerry Brown’s 'by right' housing proposalReaders may recall that a bill, SB 35, has been introduced by state Senator Scott Wiener (D-SF) to do just that.
  • "Change the California Environmental Quality Act. The association says the law is being used to block 'sensible development,' such as new homes near transportation and jobs. One suggestion was to consider an appeals process," writes Molnar.

Forbes contributor Roger Valdez, who participated on the third panel, is director of Smart Growth Seattle, and writes about housing policy and economics, wrote, "What stood out was the nonpartisan corroboration of the problem and the solution by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) [see video], and the recognition that environmental laws are being misused to stymie housing production by local communities wanting to stop growth." 

Rent control

The association was a fierce opponent of the flurry of rent and eviction control local ballot measures in the Bay Area, defeating three (Burlingame, San Mateo and Alameda) of the five measures. "In the report, the association repeatedly pushes against the idea of rent-control measures, saying they would only exacerbate the problem," adds Molnar.

The association said it produced the report because, it says, more apartments and housing are needed in California to reduce costs for renters and buyers. It estimates an additional 100,000 homes need to be built each year

Legislation supported

Based on a cursory review of affordable housing bills the association has sponsored or supported, it appears the group may often be on opposite legislative sides with the powerful League of California Cities. For example, 

  • In 2016, the association sponsored AB 2299 by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, initially opposed by the League, along with SB 1069 by Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, were signed into law in September. As a result, "local governments will no longer be able to require homeowners to add parking for new granny flats near transit stops or have a large uncovered pathway to the street...," notes Planetizen editor James Brasuell. While the League withdrew their opposition to Bloom's bill, it asked Gov. Brown to veto SB 1069.
  • Already the two new laws forced the city of Monterey to "loosen prohibitions on accessory dwelling units after failing to so earlier in the year," adds Brasuell.
  • In 2015, the association supported AB 744, a density bonus and parking reform bill for affordable and senior housing proximate to transit, became law in October 2015 (per Planetizen). While the league opposed it, writing that the possibility of inadequate parking would "negatively impact the quality of life of the vulnerable populations of identified residents," the association's letter showed how the group shares much in common with affordable housing advocates, notwithstanding their opposite positions on rent control.

When a project is close to a transit station or houses seniors and others who have fewer vehicles, existing parking requirements do not make sense. These parking spaces, which go unused, can significantly increase the cost of construction and hinder badly needed housing projects.

Related media coverage:

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Hat tip to News Headlines by MTC-ABAG Library

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