A Bill To Create A New Affordable Housing Agency In LA Just Cleared A Major Hurdle In Sacramento
In Los Angeles, we have government agencies overseeing water and power, public health, parks and much more. Soon, we may get an agency dedicated to affordable housing.
The idea came one step closer to reality on Wednesday, when the California State Assembly approved SB 679, which would create a new regional government entity called the Los Angeles County Affordable Housing Solutions Agency (LACAHSA).
The Assembly was considered the bill's biggest hurdle. The State Senate passed the bill last year. With the Assembly's approval, the bill now goes back to the Senate for what is expected to be quick final approval. Then it would need Gov. Gavin Newsom's signature to become law.
Currently, dozens of state, county and local governments split responsibility for fixing L.A.’s worsening housing crisis. State Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) said the goal of her bill is to centralize affordable housing funding and preservation efforts across L.A. County.
“No one city can or should solve this challenge on its own,” said Kamlager in an email. “Los Angeles is comprised of 88 cities and the county, and all lack a clear, focused, integrated countywide approach.”
As rents continue to skyrocket and homelessness worsens throughout L.A., local governments have been under pressure to develop solutions to the region’s housing crisis. Some elected officials have responded by proposing new departments and oversight positions, such as L.A. County’s plan to stand up a brand new homelessness agency.
SB 679 would bring one more government agency onto the scene. Proponents — including homeless service providers, tenant groups and cities such as L.A., Long Beach and Santa Monica — say LACAHSA won’t just add one more layer of bureaucracy. They argue a dedicated countywide department would be able to place new tax measures before voters and raise funds to support affordable housing development and preservation.
At an event in Baldwin Park earlier this month in support of the bill, Baldwin Park Mayor Emmanuel Estrada said small cities like his can’t confront the region’s housing crisis on their own.
“We're hoping that this gives that ability to other cities to join us and what we're trying to accomplish, because it's a regional issue,” Estrada said. “We need everybody to be doing their part.”
Advocates for new housing development often point out that in many parts of L.A. County, affordable apartments simply can’t be built in many areas because cities have zoned the vast majority of their residential land for single-family homes.
For example, Baldwin Park sets aside 81% of its residential land for single-family homes, according to a recent study from UC Berkeley's Othering & Belonging Institute.
Estrada said he hopes LACAHSA would help cities like Baldwin Park develop policies — such as zoning updates — that could be adopted across the region to spur new affordable housing.
“Zoning codes all over, not just in Baldwin Park, are outdated,” he said. “It's due time for zoning codes to be changed and reimagined. One of the problems is funding, and we don't have the money to do so.”
The bill is opposed by landlord groups, business organizations and realtors. Anthony Vulin, president of the Greater L.A. Realtors Association, said his organization opposes the bill due to concerns that LACAHSA would fund its efforts through new taxes on homeowners.
“We're afraid that it's going to make homeownership less affordable,” Vulin said. “I think there needs to be some other way that funds are raised.”
To be clear, the current bill would not raise taxes on homeowners. Legislative analysts estimate it would cost the state’s general fund at least $1 million annually to provide initial staffing and start-up resources for LACAHSA. Further funding would be contingent on revenue-generating proposals the agency places on the ballot.
LACAHSA proponents believe voters would be eager to fund more affordable housing for low-income residents and the thousands of Angelenos falling into homelessness each year.
“We simply do not have enough affordable homes in L.A. County to chip away at the homelessness crisis,” said Katie Tell, chief external affairs officer with L.A. homeless service provider PATH. “SB 679 is a critical step in helping us develop and build the affordable homes that we need.”
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