Gov. Jerry Brown signs 15 bills to improve affordable housing in California

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Yiran Chen/Staff

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On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a package of housing bills that aim to improve Californians’ access to affordable housing.

The 15 bills mandate increased construction of affordable housing, grant more funding for housing projects and streamline the approval process of such projects. Included in the package are several bills that California state senators approved in early June to address the state’s ongoing housing crisis.

“The 15 bills the governor signed … will deliver needed funding, they will provide some streamlining and they will get rid of some legal obstacles,” said State Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. “All these three things will increase the likeliness the housing gets built.”

Skinner introduced two of the bills: SB 166 and SB 167. SB 166 ensures that cities continue to build housing for various income groups, while SB 167 requires local governments to issue building permits to applicants who follow local guidelines. Skinner added that city governments across the state, including Berkeley’s, have previously declined to issue such permits because of public opposition to the developments in the community, referencing Berkeley’s recession of the approved zoning permit for a housing development at 1310 Haskell St. in 2016 as an example.

Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington called the bills “the biggest step forward” for housing in many years. According to him, the combination of all the bills could result in more housing construction in Berkeley and therefore make more apartments available for students.

“I think Berkeley needs to do a similar package of 15 bills for housing reform,” Worthington said. “We are working on putting some ideas forward.”

The package of bills includes a combination of funding methods that will go toward the affordable housing programs. SB 2, for instance, includes a $75 fee on real estate transaction documents.

Although Councilmember Ben Bartlett said he supported the bills, he expressed concern about the “regressive taxation” of SB 2. He cited an example in which those who face foreclosures and need to refinance end up with mounting costs due to SB 2.

“There are 600 documents eligible for recording,” Bartlett said. “I am worried about it because it hurts the weakest among us.”

But Amie Fishman, executive director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, called the $75 fee a “small” and “standard” funding measure. She stressed the need for commercial property tax reform as a “progressive” way to move toward fairer housing policy.

SB 3 also provides major funding for the affordable housing programs in the form of $4 billion in general obligation bonds, and it will be voted upon as a ballot measure in November 2018.

Councilmember Lori Droste said she hopes SB 3 will be approved because it will help generate funds for affordable housing. She added that she believes the bill package will have a positive impact on housing affordability in California.

“I think it’s one of the most historic pieces of legislation that has happened in recent memory,” Droste said. “It is an important first step. This was historic, but by no means was this a final determinant.”

Contact Sophia Brown-Heidenreich at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sophiabrownh.