Guest Editorial: Building more homes and jobs

By Toni G. Atkins | Notes from Toni

As this column, derived from my newsletter “Toni Times,” was being prepared, my top-priority bill, SB 2, was still under consideration in the Assembly — the deadline for Senate bills to pass “the other house” is Sept. 15.

SB 2 — the Building Homes and Jobs Act — is part of a package of bills aimed at addressing California’s severe housing crisis. Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon all pledged to make the package a priority during this session’s home stretch.

SB 2 would create a permanent source of funding for affordable housing. The bill would raise roughly $250 million annually to provide homes for struggling families, seniors and people experiencing chronic homelessness. The revenue would come from a $75 fee imposed on the filing of certain real-estate documents. SB 2 would exempt all property sales from the fee.

Coupled with an additional $4.6 billion in leveraged funding over five years, SB 2 would create tens of thousands of new homes and good jobs. That means it would spur economic activity in communities up and down the state, in addition to ending housing instability for many Californians.

SB 3 and SB 35 are the other bills in the package. SB 3 would place a $3-billion bond measure on the November 2018 ballot to fund statewide housing programs. SB 35 would streamline the approval process for projects in cities that are not meeting state-mandated housing goals at various affordability levels.

The situation in California is dire, and San Diego is feeling it.

The median rent in our region has risen 36 percent since 2000. At the same time, the median household income for renters has increased just 4 percent. Our lowest-income earners spend nearly 70 percent of their income on housing. To meet demand for middle- and working-class housing, we’d need to immediately create 142,000 rental units.

We are building housing locally, but it’s mostly being built for wealthy residents. Relatively speaking, only a small amount is being built for the middle class and the working poor.

While this package of bills won’t instantly solve the housing crisis, it will help. It attacks the problem with a mix of funding and regulatory reform, making it easier to build more housing in the right locations and provide homes quickly for residents who are struggling the most. Funding will always be needed — there will always be people who are priced out of the housing market.

Back in July, I helped cut the ribbons on two affordable-housing projects — Talmadge Gateway and Cypress Apartments —which will provide a total of 122 new homes in San Diego for people who are representative of those who will always need help: seniors on fixed, low incomes and folks who had been homeless and suffer from difficult, chronic medical issues. I met people who were grateful to be moving in.

State Sen. Toni G. Atkins

Those two projects are exactly the kinds of projects that my bill, SB 2, would help finance. We need more of them — in San Diego County and throughout California.

SB 2 is a heavy lift. Because it includes a fee, it requires a two-thirds vote.

I hope my Assembly colleagues realize how important it is that we create a reliable, ongoing source of funding for affordable housing, and I hope to have good news about my bill the next time I update you.

—Toni G. Atkins represents District 39 in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter, @SenToniAtkins.

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