USC Price School of Public Policy

State lawmakers explore policy solutions to housing crisis at Price panel

September 5, 2017

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Assemblyman Richard Bloom (right) with State Senator Scott Wiener (center) and Brent Gaisford of Abundant Housing LA
(Photo by Tom Queally) More photos available on Flickr »

By Matthew Kredell

With California facing a housing crisis, the USC Price School of Public Policy partnered with Abundant Housing LA to host a special discussion featuring two state legislators who are leading policy changes on the issue. The event took place on Aug. 17, as part of the 2017-18 Urban Growth Seminar Series.

Professor Marlon Boarnet introduces the discussion. (Photo by Tom Queally)

“This is one of the most important issues in front of the legislature,” said USC Price Professor Marlon Boarnet, chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Spatial Analysis, which hosted the seminar. “In January, for the first time, every home listed in the multiple listing service for sale in the city of San Francisco listed above $1 million. But this is not a California-only story. This is happening in cities worldwide. We have two policymakers and thought leaders here to talk about that issue, and we’re thrilled for them to be here to provide their thoughts and engage in conversation.”

State Assemblyman Richard Bloom and Senator Scott Wiener, two representatives who have introduced housing bills in this legislative session, took questions from an audience of students and community members on the many barriers to housing affordability, as well as possible solutions.

At the center of the housing crisis is, simply, a shortage of housing.

“There’s very little new housing, while our population is exploding,” Wiener said. “It is a recipe of gentrification, a recipe for eviction, a recipe for making sure that families are not able to find adequate housing and a recipe for pushing people into crushing commutes, which is terrible for health, the economy and the environment.”

Restrictions from local municipalities and the state make it difficult for developers to complete a project, often forcing them to build on the highest end to make a profit for investors.

“There’s a very long list of things developers face when moving a project forward — time delays, lawsuits, fees, additional costs that local governments place on them,” Bloom said. “We can change that dynamic by making it easier to build, by reducing those constraints.”

Solutions for the shortfall

Assemblyman Bloom and Senator Wiener speak with students following the panel. (Photo by Tom Queally)

To encourage more housing to be built, Bloom and Wiener are supporting several bills to remove impediments to development and fund affordable housing.

Bloom authored AB 1505, which would allow a city or county to adopt an ordinance requiring new residential rental developments to include a percentage of units that are affordable for lower-income individuals. He also wrote AB 1521 which requires the owner of an assisted-housing development, who is seeking to sell the property, to accept a bona fide offer that will preserve the affordability of the project for a longer period of time.

Wiener authored SB 35, which has been approved by the State Senate. It would create a streamlined approval process for housing in cities that are not meeting their housing goals required by the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). He is also co-sponsoring affordable housing funding bills SB 2 and SB 3. As funding bills, SB 2 and SB 3 require two-third votes.

“If you look at the sheer depth of the problem, to build enough affordable housing so that we can house every low-income person who needs housing in California, the cost is massive,” Wiener said. “It’s going to be hard enough to do the work we need to [help] our low-income neighbor, but we’re never going to subsidize our way out of our middle-class housing problem.”

Another hindrance is that neighborhood groups often oppose luxury developments. However, without these developments, people who want to live in that area will end up displacing others, with their willingness to pay higher rents.

“Housing is expensive because there’s not enough of it,” Wiener said. “We’re producing about half of what we need. More housing is how we’re ultimately going to make this more affordable for everyone.”

Bloom suggested that those in attendance who wanted to make a difference in this area should contact their legislators to support housing bills, but could also make an impact at a grassroots level.

“Your advocacy is extremely important,” Bloom said. “Neighborhood groups make a big difference to local leaders, particularly in our smaller communities. They tend to be populated by people who don’t like change and want to stop housing. If you’ve got a strong constitution, I would urge you to join those groups and stand up and speak in favor of housing.”