Update: AB 1778 has advanced out of the State Assembly. It heads to the Senate next.
The struggle for abundant housing and an end to the housing affordability crisis takes place at all levels of government. A key part of our work is bringing the voices of Los Angeles County to Sacramento and pushing for state laws that have a positive impact on our neighborhoods. So far in 2022, we’ve taken positions on 18 bills. All of our letters are posted on our policy tracker page. In this piece, I’ll highlight four bills that Abundant Housing LA is currently supporting, one from each of the “core four” themes in our policy agenda.
Legalize More Homes
AB 2011 (Wicks) would legalize residential use in commercial zones and require “ministerial” review (i.e. based on objective standards and exempt from CEQA), subject to certain conditions. Local parking requirements would not apply to such projects. This bill is really interesting because it illustrates and tries to respond to some of the key political challenges that have stymied other pro-housing bills in the past. Labor issues are key here. The bill requires the payment of prevailing wages and the use of a “skilled and trained workforce,” which is a reference to workers who have completed or are enrolled in certain apprenticeship programs. Organized labor is currently divided on the bill, with some factions in favor and others in opposition. Labor standards are a sensitive issue because construction workers have a strong interest in good pay and working conditions and CEQA has often been used as a means to secure that in the past, albeit with unfortunate side effects on the cost and time it takes to build badly-needed housing.
Another issue is affordability conditions on the streamlining. For example, mixed-income projects have to be at least 15% affordable for lower-income households. This is part of a larger debate about “value capture” or whether streamlining is a good thing in and of itself. Legislators are often more reluctant to facilitate market-rate housing, even though it is a critical part of the solution to the housing affordability crisis. Another interesting quirk is that this inclusionary zoning requirement is structured so that it automatically triggers a density bonus of at least 27.5% and one zoning incentive or concession under state density bonus law, such as the removal of design standards.
AB 2011 has advanced out of the State Assembly. It heads to the Senate next.
Make Homes Easier to Build
SCA 2 (Allen and Wiener) is a measure to remove Article 34 from the California Constitution. For those who haven’t had a chance to read California’s massive and problematic constitution lately (or ever), Article 34, the Public Housing Project Law, requires a public vote to approve “low rent housing projects” that are “developed, constructed or acquired” by a “state public body” (defined basically as any arm of state or local government). There are many complex exceptions to this rule, but suffice it to say that we would be closer to solving our housing affordability crisis, if we did not subject such projects to a public vote. The campaign for Article 34, adopted in 1950, was conducted in an explicitly racist manner, appealing to fears over racial integration, and also featured Cold War anti-communist rhetoric at a time when the United States was getting into the Korean War.
To give an example of the practical harms caused by Article 34, the City of Los Angeles is currently contemplating proposing a ballot measure to raise the limit on the number of affordable homes that can be built in the city. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could redirect the resources it takes to run this ballot measure into building more affordable housing? Wouldn’t it be bad if the public decided to say “no” to this housing?
If the legislature passes SCA 2, the measure would next have to go to the state’s voters for final approval. Word on the street is, the hardest part of this may be raising enough money to educate the public on why Article 34 is so problematic, before it comes time for us to vote on it. But what matters now is to get this amendment approved by the legislature.
SCA 2 has been approved by the Senate and is currently in the Assembly Appropriations Committee; it has until 8/12 to be approved by the Appropriations Committee in order to achieve a floor vote this year.
Fund Affordable Housing and End Homelessness
SB 679 (Kamlager) would create the Los Angeles County Affordable Housing Solutions Agency, also known by its delightful acronym, LACAHSA (pronounced “la casa”). This is inspired by the creation of a similar agency in the Bay Area. LACAHSA would increase funding for affordable housing production in LA County and would provide technical assistance to local governments to improve their policies around affordable housing and tenant protections. LACAHSA would be empowered to place tax measures on the ballot, apply for grants, issue bonds and buy land. The technical assistance piece is actually pretty key. Many local cities, especially smaller cities, don’t necessarily have a lot of experience with affordable housing development or policy. While political resistance is part of that story, another part is simply that financing, building and facilitating affordable housing is hard, especially when it hasn’t been a big priority in the past. Having a public agency with expertise on that to turn to (plus money) would be very helpful.
The details of the bill are still being tweaked as it prepares to advance in the Assembly. Abundant Housing LA is in those discussions in partnership with the Our Future LA Coalition. Issues that are still tricky and fluid include the exact composition of the governing board, labor standards for LACAHSA projects, and the extent to which LACAHSA projects will be exempt from CEQA.
Strengthen Renters’ Rights
AB 1778 (C. Garcia) would prohibit the state from spending money on freeway widening projects in areas with high pollution and poverty. While it may not seem at first glance that this bill is strongly connected to housing or renters’ rights, keep in mind that freeway widening projects result in evictions and home demolitions, and that these problems disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color. What do we get in exchange for those harms? More air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and no long-term improvement to our transportation challenges. Put simply, we shouldn’t do things that simultaneously harm housing, the environment, and people of color. There are smarter transportation investments that we can make instead, like public transit, complete streets, and affordable housing that’s close to jobs and sustainable transportation infrastructure. For more background on this issue, check out this recent LA Times coverage.
AB 1778 is scheduled for a floor vote in the Assembly this week, and it has to pass by a majority (41 YES votes) to move onto the Senate.
If you like how these bills sound, check out our action alerts, rush in a support letter, and urge your legislators to vote YES on these bills. When we raise our voices together we can make a difference, in housing and beyond.
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