October 25, 2017


By Michelle Pariset, Policy Advocate

Making the transition from community organizing to state-level advocacy since joining Public Advocates 18 months ago has been an exciting experience. I’ve gotten to keep working with community organizations and our allies in the capitol to find and pass real solutions to the affordable housing crisis. I’ve worked with HousingNow! on lobby days where hundreds of low-income tenants blanketed the capitol – speaking directly to those in power about what their communities need. And stood with these community members occupying the offices of the real estate lobby and marched with them against a notorious Sacramento slumlord.

I’ve also seen how difficult it is to get decision makers in the capitol to respond to the demands of low-income Californians – and how sweet it is when victory is achieved.

On September 29th, I attended a signing ceremony in San Francisco for a package of 15 housing bills. These included two bills that Public Advocates co-sponsored and many others that we and our allies had fought.

Some of the bills signed by the governor, like SB 2 and the AB 1505 (the Palmer Fix), had been introduced numerous times before, and finally succeeding this year in large part because of mass community mobilization.

While untold hours of advocacy went into these bills, the signing ceremony was mostly about the politicians, with the exception of roughly two minutes from Lisa Hershey, Executive Director of Housing California. It was with great enthusiasm that I listened to Lisa’s story about Maria Hernandez from Poway, CA., a leader in the Residents United Network, who chased her Republican legislator down a hall with the hope of convincing him to vote for SB 2 – which she finally succeeded in doing after several more meetings.

This year’s housing bills are the first step on a long journey to make sure every Californian has a home and isn’t displaced from their community.

Organizers from ACCE and Tenants Together, who brought signs to the ceremony on the 29th calling for the repeal of Costa Hawkins were told to leave them at the gate. I will be working alongside countless other advocates to make sure that tenants are front and center in what we hope will be another groundbreaking signing ceremony, one that features renter protection and anti displacement legislation.

Below, you’ll find highlights from this year’s legislative response to the affordable housing crisis and some thoughts on the struggle ahead.

Billions for Affordable Housing

At long last, California has a “permanent source” of funding for affordable housing! SB 2 (Atkins) will generate $250-300 million per year for affordable housing from a $75 recording fee on some real estate transactions.  Seventy percent of this money will be distributed to local governments by the Community Development Block Grant formula, and 30% will fund state housing programs.  Local advocacy will be needed to ensure that the local portion of SB 2 money is not misused and is invested to meet the priorities of low-income and communities of color. The distribution formula will channel much of this funding to L.A. and the Bay Area, leaving Central Valley, Inland Empire, and many rural places in need of more funds.

The legislature also put a $4 billion housing bond on the statewide ballot for November 2018. If approved by a majority of voters SB 3 (Beall) will fund the Housing Rehabilitation Loan Fund, the Self-Help Housing Fund, the Transit Oriented Development Implementation Fund, and others. $1 billion will also go to the CalVet program to provide farm and home purchase loans to veterans. The campaign to pass SB 3 in 2018 is just developing, but we know that it will take a lot of work by state policy groups, local and grassroots groups, and allies to win.

Requiring Cities to Make Room for Affordable Housing

California’s Housing Element system ensures that all cities make room for affordable housing. Two bills co-sponsored by Public Advocates, Western Center on Law and Poverty, and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, will close some loopholes that have been exploited by cities that want to keep out lower-income people.

AB 1397 (Low) requires that sites identified to meet a jurisdiction’s affordable housing needs are realistic and feasible for affordable development. Cities will no longer be able to pretend that affordable housing will get built on sites that are too small, have existing uses incompatible with housing, or present significant environmental issues.

SB 166 (Skinner) strengthens requirements that cities replace affordable housing opportunity sites if those sites are developed with something other than affordable housing.

AB 72 (Santiago), gives the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) discretion to revoke Housing Element certifications if cities are not implementing their housing plans and to refer cases to the Attorney General for enforcement.

Unleashing Inclusionary Zoning & Preserving Affordable Housing

The “Palmer Fix,” or AB 1505 (Bloom), overturns the 2009 court case that struck down inclusionary zoning for rental housing as an illegal form of rent control. Inclusionary zoning requires a percentage of affordable units in new developments, thereby promoting mixed-income neighborhoods at no cost to government. Governor Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2013, and strong advocacy from both legislative leadership and community organizations was essential to secure his signature this year. Now, local campaigns will be necessary to push cities to enact inclusionary ordinances.

Deed restrictions that keep thousands of homes affordable to low-income people will expire over the next few years, creating a huge risk of displacement. AB 1521 (Bloom) helps protect this precious supply of affordable housing and the tenants who live in it. It will guarantee a timely opportunity for non-profit operators to buy affordable units before they are offered to for-profit operators.

Keeping Immigrant Communities Safe from Unscrupulous Landlords

Although not part of the 15-bill housing package, AB 291 (Chiu) help keep immigrant tenants in their homes. It protects renters from threats and harassment by those landlords who would use a tenant’s immigrant status to retaliate against habitability or repair complaints or to circumvent the statutory eviction process. This new law is vitally important given the current dangers facing immigrant Californians – both documented and undocumented.

Creative Financing for Affordable Housing, Infrastructure, and Transit

AB 1568 (Bloom), which was co-sponsored by an advocacy collaborative that Public Advocates participated in, makes it easier for cities to create Enhanced Infrastructure Finance Districts – areas in which tax revenues are pooled to support infill development. This bill requires that 20% of all new housing built in the District is affordable, including at least 9% of units for low-income people and 6% for very low-income.  In addition, 20% of the District revenues must be spent on the acquisition, construction, or rehabilitation of affordable housing.


The legislature passed a number of bills that streamline development approvals, with SB 35 (Wiener) garnering the most attention. It prohibits local approval and environmental review processes for some housing developments. Many equity advocates are concerned that this will fast track market-rate development in hot coastal markets and speed up displacement of vulnerable communities. Efforts to mitigate the potential harms of SB 35 were modestly successful, as advocates prevailed upon legislators to incorporate anti-demolition language and some renter and other protections into the bill. But its impacts on low-income communities of color could be substantial. On the upside, 100% affordable housing will also be streamlined – which could help affordable developers to build in communities that want to exclude low-income people.

Other pieces of this housing package cover issue areas such as farmworker housing, housing sustainability districts, workforce housing opportunity zones, and the Housing Accountability Act.

The Fight Ahead

This year, the state made a down payment to increase the affordable housing supply. However, the fruits of new construction are years away. This housing package is the beginning of our work, not the end. The legislature must take up critical issues of tenants rights, housing civil rights, and others when it reconvenes in January.

Some key bills introduced this year were put on a two-year timeline, which means that they’re teed up for action in 2018. AB 1506 (Bloom) would repeal state restrictions on local rent control policies, permitting essential stability for tenants. AB 686 (Santiago) would strengthen California’s civil rights laws to ensure that government bodies throughout the state take meaningful actions to promote equal housing opportunities for people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, and others facing systemic discrimination.

Local advocates also have a lot of work ahead of them, both to ensure that the new dollars coming from the state are used responsibly in their cities and towns, to watch for violations of laws, to enact or reinstate inclusionary ordinances, and to fight for the legislation we still need to win. Public Advocates will be fighting right along with you. We look forward to sharing the struggle and the victories  ahead.

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