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How Sacramento hopes to drive down housing costs in 2017

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Bay Area lawmakers propose anything and everything

Flowers blooming in front of the Capitol Building in Sacramento. Dima_Rogozhin

In a bid to bring relief for the California’s crushing housing prices—or at least look like they’re giving it their best shot—a spate of Bay Area representatives in Sacramento, including San Francisco assemblymembers Phil Ting and David Chiu, suggested a burst of new housing laws this month.

There’s no telling which of these will eventually land on the governor’s desk, nor whether any of them will be an effective life preserver to anyone struggling to keep their house above water or their rent checks from bouncing.

But if nothing else it appears that Sacramento is willing to try just about anything in 2017, including:

Pick one. But only one.
Andrey Bayda

Taxing vacation homes: As it stands, Californians who own a second home get a tax break on mortgage interest.

Chiu’s office says that only about 31,000 people in the state hold a second mortgage, but he still expects that doing away with the break through a bill dubbed AB71 will raise $300 million a year to build affordable housing.

The appeal isn’t hard to see: In a time when the notion of buying even one home in California seems almost quixotic, it’s easy to frame a break for the .07 percent of the state’s population who have managed it at least twice as a needless benefit for the few.

The bill’s language shrewdly classifies second houses as “vacation homes”—which, of course, is not necessarily true, but still hard to argue with.

Framing housing as a health issue: Under AB74, a new state program would allocate emergency housing to those who are running up bills on emergency medical care.

The notion here is that chronic homelessness puts a drain on Medi-Cal and similar medical benefits programs. Few health problems are helped by constant exposure to the elements, after all.

So if the state can get homeless Medi-Cal beneficiaries into housing faster, lawmakers can frame it as a money saver and an effective bid at helping the neediest. A pretty sound one-two punch for vote getting.

Paying cities to upzone near transit: California cities hate it when Sacramento tries to streamline the entitlements process, as Governor Jerry Brown learned this year when his housing “nuclear option” fizzled out.

There’s room for more.
Pung /

AB73 suggests a carrot instead of a stick, offering “incentive payments” to cities that zone at higher densities within a half mile of public transit.

“High density” in this case means 20 units per acre of multi-family homes or eight per acre for single family.

Right now there’s no specific figure mentioned for how big the bonus for the city would be, but the payout would increase depending on the number of homes.

Letting the Attorney General muscle anyone not building: Speaking of things cities hate, AB72 would increase the Attorney General’s budget by a yet unnamed sum to finance enforcement on housing laws that cities may blow off because, well, too rarely does anyone force them not to.

They can’t all be carrots, apparently.