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California Senate promises billions for affordable housing

Pair of Bay Area bills upping the ante for city housing elements move to assembly

Statue of Minerva in California capital rotunda.
The capital rotunda.

Lawmakers in Sacramento are eyeing two prospective laws by Bay Area reps, one that would pour billions into affordable housing but also demand that cities start buckling down to build more—or else the state will do it for them.

SB 35, San Francisco senator Scott Wiener’s proposal that would hold city government’s feet to the coals to meet state housing requirements, passed on a 25-12 vote, with three lawmakers not voting.

If it were to become law, Wiener’s bill would automatically speed up development in cities that fall too far behind on the number of units California expects them to produce each year.

Cities without sufficient development under California’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment would have to adopt a less stringent entitlements process until they catch up. Back in January, Wiener pitched the idea via Medium, saying:

“SB35 will retain local control for those cities that are producing their share of housing, but create a more streamlined path for housing creation in those cities that are blocking housing or ignoring their responsibility to build.”

Adding a carrot to that stick, the senate also passed Jim Beall’s affordable housing bond (SB 3) on a 30-9 vote with one senator not voting.

The law would allow the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to finance affordable housing, “used to finance various existing housing programs.”

Bob Keenan Photography

“Lack of affordable housing [...] has made it virtually impossible for working families to own a home or find a reasonably priced apartment,” said Beall via press release, adding, “California’s shortage of affordable housing makes it impossible for low-income workers to escape poverty.”

The bond bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass and several of Beall’s fellow Democrats voted against it. But both laws received surprise support from Sacramento Republicans too.

The pair of prospective laws move on to the State Assembly now. SB 3 would also require voter approval in the November 2018 election.