Major Labor Groups Support New Affordable Housing Bill, but League of Cities Opposes

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Photo by Liz Sanchez-Vegas on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – It is touted as a major affordable housing bill that would open new sites of affordable housing, with backers believing it has the potential to produce “millions of units” while at the same time offering strong labor protections “that ensure all workers on these jobs earn high wages and health benefits.”

According to the text of the bill, “The Planning and Zoning Law authorizes a development proponent to submit an application for a multifamily housing development that is subject to a streamlined, ministerial approval process and not subject to a conditional use permit if the development satisfies specified objective planning standards.

“This bill would make certain housing developments that meet specified affordability and site criteria and objective development standards a use by right within a zone where office, retail, or parking are a principally permitted use…”

But critics complain that the bill, AB 2011, would require nearly all cities “to ministerially approve, without condition or discretion,” affordable and mixed use housing developments so long as they are in areas of a city where office, retail, or parking are principally allowed.

This they say would be true “regardless of any inconsistency with a local government’s general plan, specific plan, zoning ordinance, or regulation.”

Author of the legislation, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, welcomed the support of labor giants, SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and CSEA (California School Employees Association) with some proposed amendments.

“We’re thrilled to receive this critical nod of support from SEIU and CSEA on this important housing legislation, and we welcome their ideas for strengthening the bill to ensure it produces more affordable housing for low-wage workers and their families,” said Wicks.

“With our state in the midst of an urgent affordability crisis, our goal has always been to improve access to housing in every community, while also creating steady, high-wage jobs for the workers building these homes,” Wicks said. “I am confident we can come to an agreement on final language, and on behalf of myself and the dozen members of the Legislature coauthoring AB 2011, I look to forward partnering with labor to move this bill forward.”

“Keeping a roof over their families’ heads is one of the biggest worries for SEIU members right now, including janitors, security officers, caregivers, classified school employees, and other essential frontline workers,” said David Huerta, President of SEIU California and SEIU-USWW (United Service Workers West).

He added, “Every year, as California’s stalemate on affordable housing persists, it gets harder for our members to pay the rent. That’s why we feel urgency for a solution like AB 2011 that upholds our belief that strong labor standards are the foundation of a just economy. It’s time to finally reject the false choice between creating high road jobs and building housing families can afford – California must lead the nation in doing both.”

“Over half of California’s classified school employees make less than $30,000 per year, and our members are desperate for affordable housing,” said Matthew “Shane” Dishman, President of the California School Employees Association, representing 250,000 classified school employees throughout California, including school bus drivers, custodians, school secretaries, paraeducators, food service workers, school security, and other essential workers.

“California needs more affordable housing and more high-wage jobs,” Dishman added.  “There is no part of this state where our members are not struggling to find safe, affordable places to live. School employees should never have to drive for hours to get to work, stay with family, or live in their cars because they can’t afford housing near their worksite.”

A 2019 survey of SEIU members in California found increasing the supply of homes affordable to workers is an urgent priority. Some 41 percent of members reported that housing costs have forced them into one or more of the following living experiences in the past five years: living in a vehicle, shelter or garage; having to live with family or friends; having to share housing with multiple families; or living more than two hours away from work in order to afford housing.

But while the League of California Cities recognizes, “Housing affordability and homelessness are among the most critical issues facing California cities,” and, “Affordably priced homes are out of reach for many people, and housing is not being built fast enough to meet the current or projected needs of people living in the state,” they don’t believe that this is the right approach.

They are worried that “AB 2011 disregards (the) state-mandated local planning effort and forces cities to allow housing developments in nearly all areas of a city.

“Public hearings allow members of the community to inform their representatives of their support or concerns. “Streamlining” in the context of AB 2011 is a shortcut around public input. While it may be frustrating for some developers to address neighborhood concerns about traffic, parking, and other development impacts, those directly affected by such projects should be heard,” they added.

On the other hand, the Sacramento Bee editorial board also endorsed AB 2011 this week, saying the bill will “fast-track” affordable housing production, “guarantee project workers union-level wages and health benefits,” and help every community “train the next generation of laborers.

“The need for this kind of housing legislation is self-evident at this point,” the Bee concluded. “[AB 2011] would streamline housing development, diminish opportunities for NIMBYism, develop underused property and disrupt exploitation of workers. It deserves broad support.”

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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