Affordable Housing Bill Gets Union Support

Special to the Vanguard

Sacramento, CA – This week, two of the largest unions in California—SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and CSEA (California State Employees Association)—endorsed SB 4, a bill that would allow religious institutions and nonprofit colleges to build 100% affordable housing projects on their property by-right, even if local zoning prevents this housing.

The two unions—collectively representing nearly one million members—join the California Conference of Carpenters in support of the legislation, which was introduced as SB 899 in 2020 and passed the Senate 39-0.

“This measure would make building affordable housing easier, faster, and cheaper on land owned by faith-based institutions and nonprofit colleges,” a February 17 support letter from the unions said.

Housing costs have been a problem for working people.

The letter noted, “Housing costs have far outstripped any gains workers have made at the bargaining table.”

In Los Angeles, for example, “from 2009 to 2019, average rent increased by 65%, while household income increased by 36%. For workers who want to own a home, that goal is getting further out of reach. While median income in California rose by 41.1% from 2012 to 2021, median home prices increased by 108%.”

As a result, “The escalating costs of housing has pushed working families into extreme situations.”

In a recent survey, 41% of SEIU members surveyed reported that housing costs have forced them into one or more of the following experiences in the last five years: Living in a vehicle, living in a shelter, living in a garage, having to live with family or friends,  having to share a house with multiple families, or living more than 2 hours away from work in order to afford housing.

The letter noted, “California’s housing affordability crisis has similarly impacted CSEA members. Over half of CSEA’s members make less than $30,000, and the cost of housing remains a top-priority issue for classified workers.”

The letter said, “Housing is the biggest single challenge facing working people in California. We believe that our elected leaders and all organizations such as ours who represent working people need to treat this as an emergency, and we need to apply every possible policy tool to address the conjoined crises: a shortage of affordable housing and a lack of good jobs, which have only deepened during the pandemic.”

And concluded, “This bill creates a pathway for working families to access affordable housing, of which there is a critical shortage.”

“I applaud SEIU and CSEA for joining the growing chorus of support—including growing labor support—for the Affordable Housing on Faith Lands Act,” said Senator Scott Wiener.

Senator Wiener added, “The more affordable housing we build, the more people have housing, and the more well-paying jobs we create for California construction workers. Thanks to SB 4’s strong labor protections, these jobs are also guaranteed to provide livable wages and family-supporting health benefits. I commend SEIU and CSEA for standing with our faith communities and housing advocates to take the strong action we need to address California’s housing crisis.”

SB 4 is co-sponsored by the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH), the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing (SCANPH), Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC), Inner City Law Center, and the California Conference of Carpenters.

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