California Housing Bills: Which Survived the Latest Cut?

Thursday, August 16, 2018
Katy Murphy
San Jose Mercury News

Proposals to force Bay Area cities to allow housing development at BART stations and to help those squeezed by the new federal cap on tax deductions were among the bills to survive the latest round of cuts Thursday at California’s Capitol.

“Building housing near major transit hubs just makes sense,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, who is carrying the BART bill, after his hotly debated Assembly Bill 2923 cleared Thursday’s committee hurdle.

Two weeks from the legislative session’s Aug. 31 finish line, lawmakers in each house’s fiscal committee quickly shortened a long list of pending legislation, making rapid-fire decisions without debate on whether to advance or kill hundreds of proposals. The bills still standing will be debated on the Senate or Assembly floors along with other proposals attacking California’s housing affordability crisis, including one to remove some of the political roadblocks that can delay or block permanent apartments for the homeless.

Some bills didn’t fare as well. The fiscal committees on Thursday blocked one from Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, to raise the state tax credit for lower-income renters for the first time in decades as well as one of the proposals introduced in response to the new federal tax cap. Also thwarted was a bill from Chiu to create a statewide data clearinghouse on homelessness in California.

Those ill-fated proposals join a stack of other housing and tax bills that were stopped in their tracks this year, from a bill to repeal a statewide law banning some forms of local rent control — which proponents are taking straight to voters this November — to legislation that would have required cities to allow apartment buildings near transit hubs.

Some of the proposals that are still standing include:

More housing at BART: Cities in Contra Costa, Alameda and San Francisco counties would be forced to allow housing developments on BART’s expansive parking lots under Chiu’s Assembly Bill 2923. The bill faces strong opposition from Alameda County and cities such as Fremont, Hayward, Lafayette and Pleasant Hill.

Homes for the homeless: Assembly Bill 2162, by Chiu and Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, would fast-track developments for the homeless or disabled — permanent, low-income apartments with optional support services. The bill proposes making developments exempt from environmental reviews and other approvals as long as they comply with a city’s zoning rules.

Planning for new housing: Two pending bills, Assembly Bill 1771 and Senate Bill 828, aim to overhaul the little-understood system underpinning local housing development. Today, each city and county is assigned a number of low-income and market-rate housing units it needs to add in its plans for the future, typically over an eight-year cycle. But the way those numbers are parceled out, by regional councils, is widely criticized as political. (Beverly Hills, for instance, was told it needed to add just two low-income housing units over an eight-year period.) The proposals are an attempt to remove some of the politics and require stronger state oversight.

Tax-cap workarounds: A federal overhaul of the tax code hit high-tax states like California, Illinois and New York with a $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions. One bill, from Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Inglewood, aims to help the roughly 2.5 million California households expected to pay higher federal taxes as a result by allowing them to deduct an amount over the cap as a charitable contribution. Under Assembly Bill 2217, taxpayers could donate to school districts or nonprofit organizations that buy tax credits from the state. Those schools and nonprofits would get 10 cents for each dollar donated, as would the state; the taxpayer would get a state tax credit worth 80 cents on the dollar and, at least in theory, be able to deduct the full amount of the donation on federal taxes. Similarly, Senate Bill 539, by state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, would expand an existing tax-credit program for taxpayers who contribute to the California’s Cal Grant college scholarship program, raising the tax credit from 50 percent to 75 percent. It also would double the total amount of tax credits the state could issue through the program to $1 billion. (A proposal with a similar goal — Senate Bill 227, also by De León, a candidate for U.S. Senate — was killed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee Thursday.)

Apartments for the `missing middle’: Assembly Bill 2372, by Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, aims to spur the creation of lower-cost efficiency units by rewarding developers based on how much usable floor space their projects would include per lot. As soaring housing prices threaten to uproot all but the wealthiest of residents, he said, he has been frustrated by how many high-cost luxury units are being built — and how few apartments that would be affordable to Californians of more modest means.

“That has to change,” Gloria said, “if the human misery that people are suffering through the housing crisis right now is to end.”

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