Affordable housing bills hit California Legislature, but will they pass?

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California legislators will consider a towering stack of bills addressing the state's rising housing costs, a testament, they say, to their recognition of an emergency.

"We have a housing crisis and we need to act now," said Assemblymember David Chiu, who chairs the Assembly's housing committee.

It's unclear how many of the 130 bills will make it through the session. Past leaders such as Toni Atkins, the last speaker of the Assembly, had made housing affordability a priority, but she was unable to get key pieces of legislation passed.

Assemblymember Laura Friedman, a Glendale Democrat, acknowledged the tough road ahead for her bill, AB 1350. She said under her proposal, wealthy cities that aren't building their share of housing for lower-income residents would have to pay into an affordable housing fund.

"It’s only fair that every city takes on part of that burden to help put roofs over people’s head," Friedman said.

Friedman's bill reflects the frustration that some legislators feel watching the housing crisis worsen.

Another bill from Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) would let local governments approve funding for affordable housing with 55 percent of the vote instead of a two-thirds supermajority as required now.

University of Southern California housing specialist Dowell Myers foresees opposition to the housing bills from taxpayer groups and the League of California Cities. 

He said politicians need more buy-in from constituents to overcome the lobbyists who will be fighting the bills. One obstacle is that most voters are homeowners, he said.

"They don’t suffer at all by having rising prices," Myers said. "It can hurt their employees. It can disrupt their communities in different ways. They just don’t see it. They don’t feel it."

Los Angeles officials have made little progress thus far in convincing developers to build affordably-priced housing. 

A report issued earlier year by the Los Angeles city controller showed that a program allowing developers to build higher and bigger if they set aside units for lower-to-moderate income residents has generated an underwhelming number of affordable housing units.

Measure JJJ, approved by city voters in November, requires developers with projects requiring land use changes to include a certain amount of below-market homes in their projects and follow certain wage and hiring rules.

It's still too early to know if the measure's impact on affordable home production. Some builders say JJJ’s added requirements will discourage development.

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