Granny Flats and Renters' Tax Credits: Which California Housing Bills Lived and Died Friday

Friday, May 25, 2018
Katy Murphy
San Jose Mercury News

An array of bills aimed at easing California’s housing crisis, from banning fees on “granny flats” to pushing housing development on BART property, cleared a key hurdle on Friday, while others died quietly in fiscal committees.

One such fatality was a proposal to help teachers and other middle-income tenants live closer to their jobs , one of many bills aiming to shore up the supply of badly needed affordable housing for low- and middle-income families. California housing officials estimate that shortfall has ballooned to a staggering 3.5 million homes.

“I had very much hoped that this bill was going to move forward and it didn’t,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, about the proposal, Assembly Bill 3152, to spur more rental housing for the so-called “missing-middle” through property tax breaks for developers.

As negotiations over state spending approach the June 15 deadline for passing a budget, hundreds of bills with cost implications were run through rapid-fire hearings in the Assembly or Senate. Within seconds — and typically, with no explanation — it was announced whether or not each of the proposals would move forward.

Also stopped in its tracks was a bipartisan bill by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, and Marc Steinorth, R-Rancho Cucamonga, that would have helped aspiring homeowners save up for a down payment through a special savings plan with tax benefits, similar to a 529 college savings account.

Steinorth said he has tried to get the bill passed for three years, without success. “It is disheartening to see the rejection of legislation that can really be the difference in determining if our residents will be life-long renters or put them on the pathway to homeownership,” he said in a statement Friday. “We incentivize saving for college, but we neglect saving for homeownership.”

Another bill that suffered an early death was a recent proposal to bring back new-and-improved local redevelopment agencies, which were eliminated during the Great Recession, giving cities tools to offer economic incentives for low-income housing development. The bill’s demise didn’t come as a surprise, given its complexity. Gov. Jerry Brown, who wields veto power, also has been critical of redevelopment generally. Chiu, who carried the bill, noted that Democratic candidates for governor supported the idea, and said “this is just the beginning of the conversation, not the end.”

Here is a look at some bills that will live another day, with a chance of becoming law:

New construction: Senate Bill 828, from Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and Assembly Bill 1771, from Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, would set more aggressive housing goals for local cities and counties and change how the targets are set in an effort to improve the widely criticized process.

A break for granny flats: It would be illegal for cities or counties to charge certain fees for backyard or garage units — or to require off-street parking — under Senate Bill 831, by Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, a champion of the backyard “accessory dwelling” revolution. For too long, the senator says, some cities have limited the addition of these units with cumbersome requirements and high fees.

BART housing: Chiu and Assemblyman Tim Grayson, D-Concord, see the BART system’s expansive parking lots as fertile ground for housing construction, and their Assembly Bill 2923 aims to nudge the transit system and local governments into allowing it.

Tax credit and more protections for renters: Senate Bill 1182, by Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, would incrementally raise the state tax credit for renters over the next five years — and give a larger break to renters with children — increasing the amount for the first time in decades. Assembly Bill 2343, by Chiu, would give renters facing eviction more time to respond to the landlord’s notice.

Another housing ballot measure: In 2016, the Legislature passed the $2 billion No Place Like Home Act to build permanent housing with support services for homeless people with mental illness. Lawmakers sought to use money from Proposition 63, a 2004 ballot measure for mental health services, but a legal challenge by the proponents of the ballot measure has tied up the funds. Senate Bill 1206, from Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, would ask voters in November to approve this use of the ballot measure proceeds, averting a protracted legal battle.

Homeless youth: Wiener’s Senate Bill 918, the Homeless Youth Act of 2018, would create an Office of Homeless Youth to address the growing problem of youth homelessness.

Housing for the homeless: Senate Bill 912, by Sens. Beall and Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland, is a proposal to spend $2 billion from the general fund to address homelessness, with half of the money going to boost the supply of low-income housing and the other half going to cities for homeless services. The bill was amended to be consistent with a four-year, $5 billion Senate housing proposal to address the crisis. Related bills, by Chiu, would fast-track the approval of permanent housing for the homeless and create a statewide clearinghouse for data on homelessness and local services.

Beall on Friday acknowledged that the Legislature and the governor are far apart on their spending proposals to address homelessness. Brown this month proposed spending $359 million next year and saving the bulk of California’s nearly $9 billion surplus for the next economic downturn. But, Beall said, he hoped to find common ground in the coming weeks.

“The governor’s proposal is clearly significantly less money,” Beall said, “but we’re not going to wait for the next governor to come up with a clearer strategy. We know if we wait it will be much, much more expensive. Why don’t we attack the problem now?”

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