Politics

Gov. Brown opts for policy changes, not funding, to boost affordable housing

Construction is ongoing in an area with lots of shopping just off the 405 Freeway along Edinger Avenue in Huntington Beach. Nearby at Edinger Avenue and Beach Boulevard, a site was proposed for new affordable housing units.
Construction is ongoing in an area with lots of shopping just off the 405 Freeway along Edinger Avenue in Huntington Beach. Nearby at Edinger Avenue and Beach Boulevard, a site was proposed for new affordable housing units.
Ashley Bailey/KPCC

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While the state's revised budget includes $2 billion to house the homeless, Gov. Jerry Brown is looking to cities to increase housing supply for their low-income renters, saying he would support a state law that would force cities to fast-track developments that offer below-market-rate housing.

Brown's revised budget sets aside $267 million in first-year funding for homeless housing programs with a particular focus on the mentally ill and chronically homeless.

The money would come from future Proposition 63 revenues, the so-called “millionaires tax” fund that’s used for mental health. The funding would pay for supportive housing services for this population and tenant rental assistance. 

“It’s the first time that the governor, in quite a while, has made a significant investment in affordable housing,” said Alan Greenlee, executive director of Southern California Association of NonProfit Housing, referring to the homeless housing funding.

Brown's budget also returns $1.3 billion to cities and counties in former redevelopment agency money, which the Governor suggested could be used for affordable housing projects, though there’s no mandate that cities must use it for this purpose.

In his budget, Brown said it is local government, not the state, that is in control of whether housing projects get built. To encourage cities to act, he’s looking to the state legislature to write a bill that would force cities to waive certain conditional use permits, planned unit development permits or other discretionary reviews for so-called "affordable housing" projects that qualify under planning and zoning standards.

“It is counterproductive to continue providing funding for housing under a system which slows down approvals in areas already vetted and zoned for housing, which only delays development and increases costs,” the revised budget states.

Brown is also throwing his support behind other pro-development local strategies such as allowing larger accessory dwelling units on single-family lots, also known as granny flats.

“It’s sort of a declaration by the governor that says, ‘You know what, we really need to create a situation where more communities are doing the right thing,” Greenlee said. “He is saying we should do it throughout the state, not just in isolated communities.” 

Some Southern California cities are already looking at pro-development strategies to increase housing. The Los Angeles City Council is discussing ways to boost housing production in the city as it grapples with its own housing shortage.

The City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti are considering pro-development measures such as easing rules on granny flats and fast-tracking housing projects in the planning phase so that affordable housing complexes get built sooner. The city also recently passed an ordinance that gives amnesty to so-called "bootleg" apartments — those units that were not built to code and were thus taken off the rental market. Under the amnesty program, landlords can avoid penalty fees by getting their units up to code, and in return they must offer the rental units for below-market rents.

One thing that was not included in today's revised—but not yet final—state budget: A bill authored by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) that would provide $1.3 billion in one-time funding to build affordable housing complexes.

In a statement on Friday, Chiu applauded the governor’s recognition of the state's housing crisis and its ties to homelessness. But, he said, relying on market-rate housing options for Californians won’t cut it.

“We look forward to engaging with the governor to ensure that this year's budget will include a meaningful investment in affordable housing,” Chiu said.

State legislators have until June 15 to make changes to the final budget and send it to the governor.