California lawmakers send affordable housing fix to governor

State Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, receives congratulations from Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, after her housing measure was approved by the state Assembly, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Sacramento.
State Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, receives congratulations from Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, after her housing measure was approved by the state Assembly, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Sacramento. Rich Pedroncelli/AP

California lawmakers sent Gov. Jerry Brown a package of bills Friday aimed at easing the state's affordable housing crisis, after a handful of hesitant Democrats were persuaded to back a new fee to generate money for subsidized housing.

Brown, a Democrat, has said he plans to sign the bills.

The three major pieces of the deal include a $4 billion housing bond, a new $75 fee on real estate transaction documents, and a bill to streamline building regulations that can hamper developers looking to construct low-cost apartments and homes.

California lacks an estimated 1.5 million affordable housing units compared to demand — a situation that is contributing to the growth of the homeless population.

On Wednesday, Anaheim became the state's latest city to declare homelessness an emergency. San Diego is struggling to contain an outbreak of hepatitis among its homeless population.

Even with the deal passed, relief won't be immediate.

The primary money source for new building and redevelopment — the $4 billion bond — needs approval from voters next year.

The collection of the fee on the real estate documents will begin immediately but is expected to bring in only $200 to $300 million annually to be shared among local governments and the state. That's far less than the more than $1 billion communities used to get annually under a redevelopment program halted during the Great Recession.

In the first year, half of it will go toward efforts to reduce homelessness, while the remaining half will aid communities in updating their planning and zoning laws. After that, 70 percent of the money will go to local communities for housing projects.

Democratic lawmakers cheered the package of bills as comprehensive solution to a crisis that's been difficult to solve.

"We need to do our part and stop creating reasons why we can't fix things," said Democratic Sen. Ben Hueso of San Diego. "When you talk to the people of California they are concerned, and more and more concerned, that they have no affordable place to live."

Republicans, meanwhile, argued middle-class families can't afford another new fee and questioned whether the money from it will be used effectively.

"I believe that we are shortchanging the middle income, the average, hardworking Californians with this imposed fee," Republican Sen. Jim Nielsen said.

Several bills in the package aim to streamline regulations, a move Brown has long deemed necessary to address the crisis. A bill by Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco will waive some regulations for apartment builders in communities that aren't meeting their housing production targets.

It would require developers to pay workers a prevailing wage that is standard in the industry and backed by labor unions.

This story has been updated.

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