By Craig Adelman, Senior Principle, Lesar Development Consultants

2019 is a year of continued, increasing dominance of housing affordability and homelessness as topics of conversation, media attention, and policy focus across California and beyond. The state continues in the throes of an intense, heartbreaking, and protracted crisis to adequately and affordably house its residents. As we reach the end of the year and look back on 2019, we may find it challenging to reconcile the harsh realities the data show regarding a further deepening crisis on the ground with the impressive progress achieved in policy and practice.

While housing affordability continues to be the highest profile issue in California, we may look back on 2019 as a bellwether year when housing supply shortages became a national issue. While the Trump administration’s most visible actions revolved around the criminalization of homelessness in California, the rest of the country continues to realize and experience that housing affordability and homelessness are no longer exclusively coastal challenges. Perhaps most notably and indicative of this increased national attention was, for the first time in history, housing affordability making its way into the Democratic presidential debate on November 20th. Three candidates were asked about their proposed solutions to the crisis and offered a range of potential federal policies and executive actions intended to alleviate or solve the problems.

Back home in California we saw one of the most ambitious and productive legislative sessions in recent history enacting state housing and homelessness policies. Last month we offered a more focused recap of 2019’s legislative achievements. To briefly review, the state enacted landmark renter protections (through anti-gauging and no-fault eviction policies), decreased land use impediments to local approval of affordable housing, expanded ADU rights, and increased funding for affordable and homeless housing development and preservation. Attention and advocacy continue over the year’s most controversial bill, SB50, which will be carried over into next year’s session, and represents the most significant modifications to our housing land use system in a generation. Many in the field continue to keep a close eye on this bill as a pathway to significantly increase housing production in the state.

Another major positive trend in 2019 is the corporate sector stepping into the mix to actively and financially participate in solutions to housing shortages and homelessness. This year saw major financial commitments to affordable housing and homelessness from Kaiser Permanente, Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Google, Facebook, and Apple. While most of this activity has been focused in and from the Bay Area, we hope it represents a catalyst toward greater corporate engagement in housing accessibility and homelessness across California and beyond. We also caution you to beware of media stories characterizing these as “contributing or giving” billions of dollars to affordable housing. Most of these commitments are for capital; some below market but others at market returns. If structured effectively, this capital can be an impactful tool, but we’ve seen too much mischaracterization of these commitments as exclusively or primarily philanthropic when in fact most of this money will require repayment with a return.

To bring this all home, let’s close by looking at a couple of key achievements at LDC this year that relate to these challenges. First is the completion of the CASA Compact in the Bay Area, a ground-breaking process to develop regional solutions to the housing crisis facilitated by Jennifer LeSar. It’s hard to believe how significant the impacts of this effort have been in less than a year, not only in the region but as a key driver and influence on the state legislative agenda through bills primarily carried by Bay Area legislators that were champions of the CASA Compact. LDC is gratified by its involvement in this effort and remains committed to finding opportunities to implement similar processes elsewhere to build solutions to housing and homelessness.

Similarly, LDC completed its second Housing Policy Leadership Academy (HPLA) in San Diego this year and has plans to expand this model in other areas in 2020. We’ve come to recognize that in addition to funding and capital, effective leadership is one of the most significant needs to overcome our crisis. Through this program, we are working to expand and develop an ongoing network of informed, passionate housing policy advocates committed to creating healthy housing markets for all.

We look forward to sharing more news on HPLA and other leadership development opportunities, as well as in-depth analysis on local, state, and national efforts to end the housing affordability and homelessness crisis in the coming year.

Reach out to LDC President and CEO Jennifer LeSar if you would like to implement a local or regional planning process in your community, or if you are a funder interested in supporting the planning process.