California Road Map for Affordable Housing and Solutions for Homelessness
Working Californians can’t afford to live and work in the communities in which they grew up. A third of our state’s renters spend more than half of their earnings on housing costs. In a world where more and more freeway underpasses and parks are becoming makeshift housing, we must think big and act boldly to address a problem that has metastasized from a crisis to an economic and humanitarian crisis.
Every Californian has a right to an affordable, decent place to call home. Within the decade, my goal is to place a roof over the heads of an additional four million low- and moderate-income Californians by investing additional public resources into affordable housing production and doubling local government permitting activity for all types of housing.
Here’s how we get there:
We need to invest in affordable housing, and we need to do it now. While I am proud of my role in successfully advocating for SB 2, which creates a dedicated new revenue stream for affordable housing programs, and SB 3, which places a $4 billion affordable housing bond before voters in 2018, these accomplishments are a mere down payment for what we need to meet our housing needs. As governor, I will go much farther. I will fight for at least $9 billion in affordable housing bonds and increase the state’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program by an additional $600 million, annually.
Next, we’ll increase dedicated affordable housing resources by resurrecting and re-imagining local redevelopment programs so they actually serve the intended purposes of economic development and the elimination of blight, rather than serve as slush funds for local politicians to dole out. Importantly, I will dedicate 35 percent of property tax increment to low- and moderate-income housing.
Currently, most cities and counties have an economic incentive to pursue commercial development projects, like auto malls and big box retail stores, rather than housing. Local planning and zoning decisions are driven by the goal of maximizing sales tax revenue and padding the budgets of local municipalities. Given how big our state’s affordable housing problem is, it’s a real problem when local governments aren’t addressing this issue.
We need to put an end to “fiscalized land uses” and exclusionary local zoning policies. This can be accomplished by creating a system of “carrots” and “sticks” to incentivize cities and counties to increase housing production, including:
- offering additional funding for housing production, including additional transportation funds, sales tax revenues, and state infrastructure funds.
- ensuring accountability when NIMBYism and local zoning/land use rules prevent the construction of needed housing. In Massachusetts, for example, the state’s Chapter 40B legislation allows developers of affordable housing to apply for exceptions to local zoning laws if ten percent of the community housing stock doesn’t already consist of affordable housing units. If the municipality rejects the application, the developer can appeal to a state board. The state board has overridden local zoning laws in 95 percent of the cases brought before it in the past 48 years, resulting in the construction of over 50,000 affordable homes.
More than 118,000 Californians experience homelessness on any given night, more than any other state in the country. It’s heartbreaking. I strongly believe we have a moral and ethical obligation to take care of our fellow men and women.
Cities like San Francisco have tried and failed to properly address homelessness, with outrageous policies like criminalizing begging and sleeping on the streets. Not only does it not help the homeless and not help the city, but it doesn’t reflect who we are as compassionate people.
Rapid rehousing and prevention are the two most successful and cost-efficient ways at helping individuals and families escape homelessness. Studies show that families that are rapidly rehoused when they face homelessness are more likely to stay in a home 12 months later than families who have to rely on temporary shelter.
I want to prevent chronic homelessness by creating a statewide rapid rehousing program to mitigate situations that lead to homelessness and shelter those in immediate need. Such a program could include financial assistance with security and utility deposits, rental assistance for 3 to 18 months, assistance with paying utility bills, moving cost assistance, and emergency vouchers for motels or hotels.
Prevention also depends on addressing the underlying issues of why people are facing homelessness. I support investments in job placement programs, life-skills training, transportation assistance, and access to quality affordable health care and mental health. When you combine these services with rapid rehousing, individuals have the tools and the resources to escape homelessness.
Housing production has lagged in California for years. We can maximize our investments in affordable housing by focusing resources on multi-family housing units, like apartment buildings.
I want to spur the production of mixed-income rental housing with full or partial property tax exemptions to developers of market-rate housing that include at least 20 percent affordable units. Since the early 1970s the City of New York has been very successful at spurring production of such housing through its property tax incentive programs. California needs smart and creative solutions like this to encourage developers to meet our housing needs.
Given Californian’s size and all the different parties that play a role in housing, it’s no wonder that the system is convoluted and creates unnecessary delays to housing development. If we want to encourage affordable housing development in the most efficient manner possible, we need to bring central coordination to this vital issue.
As governor, I will create a Housing Czar position within the Governor’s Office to coordinate state, regional, and local efforts to increase housing production, address affordability, and end homelessness. This person will have the authority and the expertise to provide strong leadership on this vital issue to make sure California is tackling this issue with urgency.