California legislators propose bill package to address state housing crisis

Apartment building complex for rent.
Doug Smith/File

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State Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, is proposing and co-authoring a package of bills that plans to address the housing crisis in California by protecting renters, promoting affordable housing and developing sustainable living for all income levels.

Wicks, who was elected to the state Assembly in November 2018, authored AB 724, which, if passed, would create a statewide registry to track rental data; AB 726, which would help households in rent-to-own agreements; and AB 725, which would develop more affordable housing types.

“We are millions of millions of homes short of where we need to be,” Wicks said at an East Bay for Everyone forum Saturday. “In California, we have one of the lowest numbers of homes for population.”

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who also attended the forum, discussed the housing crisis and the bills she has been working on to alleviate it, including SB 18, which she is co-authoring with Wicks to support households behind on rent and to provide legal assistance to people facing unlawful evictions.

“The data shows that the growth in homelessness is people that were never (homeless) before, but … they faced an unexpected expense and couldn’t make their rent,” Skinner said. “Federal funds have been slashed phenomenally, so you see very … few rental assistance funds. California has a fund — very marginal — but SB 18 aims to increase that fund so we can keep people in their homes.”

Middle-class income in the Bay Area rings in at $200,000, with California hosting 33 of the top 50 cities with the highest rents in the country, Skinner said.

UC Berkeley city and regional planning lecturer Peter Albert said because of the amount of market-rate housing, double-income families are often unable to afford stability.

“It’s amazing what we call affordable housing now that we (are) realizing that a household making $120,000 a year is not able to afford housing,” Albert said. “In some parts of the country, that is jaw-dropping because that sounds like a lot of money, and in the Bay Area — it’s not.”

AB 725 addresses the lack of affordable homes by promoting sustainable and affordable housing in zones that accommodate above-moderate-income units. This bill would make it so that 80 percent of that allotted land would host multifamily buildings.

Wicks created AB 724 to collect data about evictions and rent increases to help tenants maintain housing and protect against malpractice. She said during the forum that collection of data would highlight problems to address.

“We desperately need to make sure that we are investing in … extremely low- and moderate- and below-market-rate housing,” said Soli Alpert, a commissioner on the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. “But we need to be doing as much as we can to keep renters in place because … we are losing below-market-rate housing stock and our low-income tenants and residents to displacement and gentrification.”

Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board Commissioner James Chang said Wicks’ policies are good steps toward prevention of homelessness, but the legislation itself is not enough to solve the problem. Chang added that Berkeley has some of the most proactive rent control laws in California, but those protections are offered in limited scope.

“There isn’t much renters’ protection at all on a statewide level,” Chang said. “Rent control is not just helpful in stabilizing people … It’s also a way for people to amass enough funds to perhaps one day buy their own homes.”

Wicks also signed onto SB 50, or the More HOMES Act, which was authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and aims to increase housing near job centers and high-quality transit.

According to Alpert, no single bill will be enough to solve the housing crisis, but these are steps in the right direction.

“I want to see real statewide rent control,” Alpert said. “People have a human right to stable housing. We are not going to solve Berkeley’s housing problem at the level of the city of Berkeley because it’s not a problem solely local — it is a problem with local, state and federal causes.”

Contact Vanessa Arredondo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @V_anana.