by Randy Shaw on September 18, 2023 (BeyondChron.org)

A Legislative Breakthrough for Housing

California is the national leader in failing to build housing to meet population growth. But 2023 saw over a dozen major housing production bills pass the state legislature.

How did this happen? Five major reasons.

  1. Greater Public Education

Public understanding of the housing supply crisis has vastly expanded in the past four years. I know this firsthand.

I spent much of 2019 promoting my book highlighting the housing shortage in blue states and cities —Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. Attendees at book readings told me they were unaware that their neighborhood zoning completely banned new apartments. If those attending a book reading on housing didn’t know this, it told me that most of the voting population were also unaware.

I went to Los Angeles in December of 2019 to build support for Senator Scott Wiener’s visionary housing development bill, SB 50 (See my story, “Los Angeles Desperately Needs SB50,” Dec. 3, 2019) To say activists and politicians were hostile to the bill is an understatement. Every Los Angeles legislator voted against SB 50 despite the city’s extreme affordability crisis.

By 2023 far more of the public understood that state preemption was necessary to get enough housing built. What changed? An avalanche of pro-housing books, articles, tweets, conferences, social media posts, and newspaper editorials. As the public’s support for state action grew, legislative success followed.

  1. A Worsening Crisis

2023’s success also reflected California’s worsening crisis. Claims by cities opposed to SB50 that they could solve the crisis without state preemption proved false. Housing prices  jumped not just in wealthy coastal cities but across the state. This increased pressure on legislators to act.

Some of these legislators won contested races running as pro-housing candidates. Examples include Caroline Menjivar’s victory over Daniel Hertzberg for a State Senate seat in Los Angeles and Assemblymember Alex Lee’s re-election in San Jose.

  1. Labor Support

Labor support made 2023’s historic housing gains possible. Period. New, visionary leadership at the Carpenters Union brought key labor support for housing. The Carpenters didn’t simply endorse key bills; union members mobilized for passage. The Carpenters’ support along with the Building Trades dropping opposition to production bills was huge.

Every progressive group in California wants labor to  support their bills. Labor backs many measures but is selective on those it goes all out to pass. That labor did so for housing production bills is a tribute to California’s pro-housing legislative leadership.

  1. Buffy Wicks and Scott Wiener

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks and Senator Scott Wiener used their positions as Housing Committee Chairs to play enormously important roles in passing the biggest bills: SB 4 (opens over 170,000 acres for By-right affordable housing by allowing faith institutions and nonprofit colleges to build affordable housing on their land),  and SB 423 (Extension and expansion of SB 35, which has already helped streamline over 18,000 new homes). Wicks and Wiener used their credibility with labor to negotiate support for these key bills.

Legislative politics in Sacramento is built on trust and relationships. Wiener and Wicks provided both.

When I tried to build support in Los Angeles in 2019 for SB 50, people kept telling me that Scott Wiener was toxic. They felt any bill he sponsored would fail.

They were wrong. In 2023 Scott Wiener again led efforts to solve California’s housing shortage. He was never deterred by attacks on his advocacy.

San Francisco Assemblymember Phil Ting deserves special credit for taking on a third rail housing issue: CEQA reform. AB 1633 went down to the wire but with the help of the Bay Area Council and other YIMBYs, Ting got it done.

  1. YIMBY Organizing

Passing housing production bills faces opposition from cities, progressives opposed to new market rate housing, and conservatives against ending exclusionary single family home zoning. In 2019 I constantly heard from progressives how what I described in my book as a growing YIMBY movement was actually an astroturf campaign funded by tech.

Those claims were not true then and have really been proved false now. California’s grassroots YIMBY base clearly out organized and outmobilized opponents in 2023.

YIMBYs helped changed the political calculus in many areas, including Orange County, San Diego, San Jose, and in always challenging Los Angeles. YIMBYs overcame misguided environmentalist claims that vast stretches of the “coast” should remain density-free.

Credit the YIMBY movement for transforming California housing politics.

Michael Lane, State Policy Director, SPUR. Lane has an encyclopedic knowledge of what’s happening in the legislature. We have commiserated over the defeat of SB 50 and other housing production bills. So it’s good to hear him talking about victories.

According to Lane, “This has been a tremendously successful and impactful legislative year for housing. The Legislature is taking steps to solve homelessness and improve our housing affordability and availability challenges and has passed major bills with support from a diverse coalition including the Carpenters, SEIU and many other unions, YIMBYs, affordable housing advocates and businesses groups. This is the strongest policy consensus and coordinated action I’ve seen in nearly 25 years working on legislation in Sacramento.”

On top of all the bills promoting housing production, San Francisco Assemblymember Matt Haney’s AB12 reducing the state’s sky high security deposit requirements also passed and is headed to the Governor. Many families are priced out of apartments due to the inability to meet excessive deposit demands, AB 12 may have the biggest impact in reducing homelessness of any bill passed this session.

San Francisco elects district supervisors who often oppose state preemption of local housing laws. The city in state races then elects Haney, Ting and Wiener, who are among the state’s leading preemption advocates.

California did not solve all of its affordability problems in 2023. And it takes time for housing backed by these new measures to get built. But the state finally made a longoverdue breakthrough. California’s success offers a good model for activists in other states facing similar challenges.

Here is the list of CA housing bills passed by the legislature. Governor Newsom has until October 14 to exercise any vetoes.

ACA 1 (Aguiar-Curry) Lower voter threshold to 55% for local housing funding ballot measures.

AB 1287 (Alvarez) Housing Density Bonus for Moderate-Income Units

AB 1633 (Ting) Housing Accountability Act/CEQA Local Government Disapprovals –e.g. 469 Stevenson Street, San Francisco

SB 684 (Caballero) Streamlined approval processes for development projects of 10 or fewer residential units

SB 423 (Wiener) Extension of SB 35 (Wiener, 2017) housing approvals streamlining plus  expansior to Coastal Zone

SB 4 (Wiener) By-right affordable housing on private college and religious institution property

AB 281 (Grayson) Planning and zoning – post entitlement phase permits

AB 1114 (Haney) Planning and zoning – post entitlement phase permits – San Francisco

AB 1485 (Haney) Housing law enforcement – Attorney General

AB 821 (Grayson) Planning and Zoning – General Plan/Zoning conflicts

AB 1449 (Alvarez) Affordable Housing: CEQA Exemption

AB 1307 (Wicks) UC Berkeley student housing is not noise pollution

AB 1317 (Carillo)–Unbundles parking fees from rent

AB 309 (Lee) Social Housing Act

SB 567 (Durazo) Termination of tenancy: no-fault just causes: gross rental rate increases.

SB 439 (Skinner) Special motions to strike: priority housing development projects.

AB 976 (Ting) and AB 1033 (Ting) ADU bills to extend prohibition of owner-occupancy requirement and allow separate conveyance

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw’s latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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