Gov. Gavin Newsom signing Assembly member David
Chiu’s AB1482 Tenant Protection Act of 2019 on Oct. 8, 2019

Craig Adelman, Senior Principal
Diana Elrod, Principal

Housing and homelessness remain at the forefront of Californian’s public policy priorities, and that focus was reflected in the accomplishments of the recently completed state legislative session. Legislators introduced over 200 bills addressing housing and/or homelessness, and by virtually all accounts those that passed affect significant changes in how California manages its housing crisis. While this slate of bills may not comprise a fully cohesive or comprehensive response to the state’s housing crisis, it is a series of steps in that direction and advances policies and programs that may collectively move the needle on what has been a chronically intractable challenge for decades.

The major themes we can take away from these bills include ways to reduce barriers to or increase affordable housing, strategies to address homelessness, and streamlining development review. While many of these efforts will give local jurisdictions better tools to address the housing and homelessness crises, some of these bills involve a further challenge to local control – in particular around accessory dwelling unit production.

It’s notable that many of these bills would have been considered unlikely, and in some cases unthinkable, just a couple of years ago. But the combination of a governor who has embraced this challenge, legislative leaders who have been consistently moving significant packages of housing legislation since 2015, and broad, sustained, and creative advocacy from across the state resulted in a banner year for public response to our acute crisis.

LeSar Development Consultants has been privileged to touch this work from many angles and through many partners. For example, our CEO Jennifer LeSar’s facilitation of the Committee to House the Bay Area (CASA) is particularly gratifying because it was the catalyst for several of the policy ideas that were ultimately passed statewide this year, including just-cause eviction protections, rent caps, accessory dwelling units, and others.

Many will note that SB 50, perhaps the most controversial and disruptive bill this year (which incorporated several CASA policies), did not pass this year. But it is still alive, having been converted into a two-year bill and returning for debate next year. Another bill that was vetoed – SB 5 (Beall D), the Affordable Housing and Community Development Investment Program – would have redirected some Educational Revenue Augmentation Funds (ERAF) back to localities for infrastructure, affordable housing, and economic revitalization, among other things. In essence, it would have reinstituted a small version of redevelopment, and while the overall amount would have been quite small annually – in contrast to the billions realized by the former Redevelopment Agencies – it did represent yet another ongoing revenue source that is sorely needed in the state. In his veto message, the governor noted that, when fully implemented, SB 5 would increase annual costs by $2 billion. “Legislation with such a significant fiscal impact needs to be part of budget deliberations so that it can be considered in light of other priorities,” he said. These vetoes serve as a reminder that even amid an acute crisis, major structural changes remain challenging and require time.

Borrowing from the CASA Compact to organize the potential strategic impacts and outcomes of this year’s bills, we have expanded the CASA 3Ps strategy into a “5Ps” framework that specifically elevates social environment factors and distinguishes between the place-based strategy of preventing displacement and the population-based strategy of better protecting renters. We have categorized how this year’s legislation and future bills might build out a comprehensive strategy to effectively house all Californians and end our crisis.

Physical Environment: Social Environment:
1. Produce Housing for All 4. Protect Renter from Rent Gouging
2. Preserve Valuable Housing 5. Promote Equity and Inclusion
3. Prevent Displacement

Major highlights and themes from this year’s bills include:

• Protecting renters. The new anti-rent gauging and just cause eviction law (AB 1482: Chiu) is significant both in terms of policy and what it might mean politically for the rent control initiative scheduled for the ballot in 2020. This bill caps rent increases for a decade at 5% plus inflation.

• Increasing production and reducing barriers. The most significant effort enacted into law may be the Housing Crisis Act (SB 330: Skinner), which creates important new vesting rights for housing developments and limits on local review procedures.

• Diminishing single family zoning. Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) have become a darling of the housing policy world, as reflected in a package of bills (AB 68 :Ting, SB 13: Wieckowski, AB 881: Bloom, AB 670: Friedman) attempting to increase their use and significantly change California’s predominantly single family residential land use restrictions.

While this suite of bills isn’t yet a comprehensive strategy and we hope to see another year with strong production bills, it encompasses an impressive breadth of strategies for addressing housing and homelessness across the state that reflect the complexity and nuance of these issues and our challenges in responding to them.