California’s affordable housing crisis is hurting millions but Governor Jerry Brown still refuses to do his part to help. Brown released his May budget revise last Friday and allocated $0 in new housing funds. The Governor offered a complete rebuff to backers of the $1.3 billion Assembly affordable housing plan sponsored by the Bay Area’s Tony Thurmond and David Chiu, preferring to keep $2 billion in a rainy day fund while ignoring the housing tsunami impacting millions of Californians.
Brown has long expressed troubling attitudes toward state support for affordable housing. Last year, he vetoed AB 35, which would have effectively doubled funding for California affordable housing development. Brown vetoed the bill despite its $100 million annual price tag leveraging $1 billion in federal dollars.
This year the Democratic-controlled Legislature mobilized heavily around housing from the start. State Senate Leader Keven DeLeon worked with former Senate leader Darrell Steinberg to propose leveraging the $2 billion Prop 63 bond for house people with mental illnesses who are experiencing homelessness. The Governor backed this move, which will bring $270 million in non general fund money to housing in the next year.
The Governor also proposed some policy changes to facilitate development, a strategy he prefers to providing funds for low income people to afford rent. The boldest and most controversial is his plan for “as of right” development that would apply to nearly every project in San Francisco (that’s because it covers market rate projects with at least 10% inclusionary units near transit and 20% affordability in other areas. Most urban projects come under the lower criteria, and the passage of San Francisco’s Prop C this June requires 25% inclusionary for all projects).
Brown explained his approach, “Hopefully, the supply is going to bring down the cost. Otherwise, through subsidies and through restrictions, we’re just spending more and more tax dollars and getting very, very little.”
That will not be music to the ears of those San Francisco housing activists who see building market rate housing as worsening rather than alleviating the city’s affordability crisis. And if you think that Brown would be reluctant to overturn decades of local environmental legal challenges to affordable housing, recall his success in killing Redevelopment Agencies.
I would not bet against him. The details still remain unclear, but Brown has left no doubt he will use state power to prevent local activists from blocking new housing.
Other than Governor Brown, all sides of the housing supply debate recognize that funding new nonprofit housing must be part of California’s affordability solution. Housing California, which represents many of these housing nonprofits in Sacramento, did a tremendous job persuading legislators on this point but has yet to overcome the Governor’s stubborn opposition (Housing California’s statement on Brown’s budget is worth reading).
Battles for affordable housing dollars occur locally in California. In cities like San Francisco rarely does a week pass without a protest, hearing or legislative initiative to create more affordable housing opportunities.
Yet while activists continue to blame local mayors or legislators for the state’s housing crisis, the Governor has gotten off criticism-free. Locally oriented housing activists have given Brown a pass for too long, and are violating the cardinal activist precept of Follow the Money.
Local activists must start getting involved in Sacramento politics. The Thurmond-Chiu $1.3 billion measure is still out there, and grassroots support can make a difference. Brown’s desire for a big win on the “as of right” housing bill will force him to compromise on affordable housing funding, so there is a perfect opportunity if local activists keep their eye on Sacramento’s prize.
To help the campaign, activists should contact Housing California or your local nonprofit housing development group. Nobody understands politics better than Jerry Brown, and if he doesn’t see local activists pressing him for housing dollars these funds will remain unspent.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron and Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.Filed under: Bay Area / California