Last week I was asked the following question on SB 50: “There seems to be a ‘dearth’ of articles on here, regarding the views of social justice/equity groups toward SB 50. Why is that, given David’s apparent interest in that subject at other times?”
What I find interesting is that a lot of people seem to believe I supported SB 50. The truth is – as I have expressed a number of times previously – I didn’t support SB 50. I didn’t oppose SB 50 either. I believe the idea behind it has some merit. And most fundamentally I believe we have a housing shortage and I don’t see a really good alternative put on the table at this point that would increase housing production.
The groups that are kind of intriguing to me are those who generally support housing but opposed SB 50. One group – Housing is a Human Right – saw SB 50 as “a handout to developers and the real estate industry that turbocharges gentrification in our cities without solving our housing affordability crisis. SB 50 does little to address the housing affordability crisis, will fuel further speculation without building the kind of housing we need, and will put working- and middle-class communities (especially of color) at risk of displacement.”
I’ve definitely raised affordability and concerns about gentrification.
Here is what I liked about SB 50.
The LA Times editorial board put it this way: “SB 50 is bold, to be sure; it would herald a dramatic, but ultimately necessary transition toward greater density in California.”
What I like about this bill is that it addressed the issue of housing in a way that would encourage densification rather than building more housing on peripheral land. For those arguing that it would not prevent such building, I agree it would not. But what it does do is clears the hurdles toward building density near transit and jobs.
It allows for taller buildings and more homes in places where people can better connect their homes to their jobs.
There were problems with this approach as well. One is that it would have largely prevented local land use discretion over the type of housing built.
Another concern that many had was that there were not strict enough affordability controls on this. The 2020 version of the bill called for between 15 and 25 percent affordability, but with smaller developments would not have required the affordability to be on-site.
These problems led to concerns about gentrification as well – tearing down lower income housing and displacing current residents with higher income housing.
When these arguments about enriching developers are made by groups normally opposing new housing, we can question their motivation. When it comes from groups that generally support building new housing, then I think we have to look at it more closely.
The problem is that right now, in the absence of SB 50, we have the status quo and no viable proposal on the table.
As the SF Chronicle pointed out last week: “Although California has the nation’s least affordable housing markets, a quarter of its homeless population and fewer homes per capita than nearly any other state, the Senate recently whiffed its third attempt to revive persistently anemic housing production.”
The Chronicle disagrees with the notion that building this housing would “[s]peed gentrification of low-income areas.” They argue, that right now, they are “bearing the brunt of demand because wealthier communities are free to block development.”
The Chronicle noted that among the opponents of SB 50 were three Bay Area Democrats: “Jerry Hill of San Mateo, Steve Glazer of Orinda and Bill Dodd of Napa.”
From the Chronicle’s perspective: “Given the depth and consequences of the housing shortage in the places these men represent, their votes defy justification. They and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who despite his pledge to dramatically increase housing production did not endorse SB50, should feel enormous pressure to produce an alternative before the legislative session expires.”
This is the point I have made several times before – they have succeeded in killing SB 50. The reality now is that we are in the exact same place as before. Nothing has changed and the housing crisis remains.
I view housing as a social justice issue itself. We end up in a situation where we are reliant on developers to build new housing, and the people hurt by the housing shortage are low income people and the homeless, not the wealthy, not the developers. So the question is – how do we figure out a way to produce more housing?
I have put forward the idea of a modified version of SB 50 where you simply require local communities to meet their eight-year RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) goals – with the provision that they lose local land use authority if they fail to produce adequate housing and you couple that with stronger affordable housing laws with the funding from a new RDA (Redevelopment Agency).
What I see from groups like Housing is a Human Right is opposition to bills like SB 50, but what I don’t see a lot of are viable proposals for increasing housing production. Until we see that, we are not going to see the housing crisis abate – and the people hurt will be the people they are trying to help.
—David M. Greenwald reporting