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By Miriam Raftery

Photo:  Governor's Office

October 2, 2017 (Sacramento) - Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law 15 bills that aim to ease the state’s affordable housing crisis, but which also restrict the abilities of local governments, environmentalists and neighborhood groups to block projects in their communities.

In a signing statement, the Governor says, “These new laws will help cut red tape and encourage more affordable housing, including shelter for the growing number of homeless in California.”

Here are summaries of the new laws:

State Senator Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, authored Senate Bill 2, aims to reduce homelessness by raising $250 to 300 million a year to fund affordable housing development programs and long-range development planning in cities and counties. The funds will come from a new fee on certain real estate transactions ranging from $75 to $225. Those funds can be used for rental assistance, development of housing for the homeless, and homeless navigation centers.

Another measure, Senate Bill 3, would put a $4 billion housing bond on the ballot to fund the CalVet home loan program to help veterans buy homes and pay for low-income housing projects, as well as residential construction near jobs and public transit.

Senate Bill 35 would force cities and counties that haven’t built enough housing for all income levels to let developers avoid costly environmental reviews and public hearings – also limited the public’s input on new projects in their communities.  Yet conversely, it also mandates higher pay for construction workers on projects with 10 units or more.

Senate Bill 166 mandates that local government identify development sites for all unmet housing needs, from very low-income to higher market-rates. It also strengthens state housing law that generally prevents local jurisdictions from reducing zoning densities.

Two bills, Senate Bill 167 and Assembly Bill 678,  beef up the Housing Accountability Act by making it harder for communities to block proposed housing projects or homeless shelters.  The new laws would authorize courts to fine cities or counties that don’t comply, aiming to limit influence by neighbors, environmentalists or others seeking to limit development.

Senate Bill 540 allows communities to establish pre-planned zones for affordable housing to boost development in urban centers near transit and jobs.  Projects in these zones must sell or rent 30 percent of units to moderate income households, 15 percent to low-income and 5 percent to very low-income households. In addition, 10 percent of market rate projects would be set aside for those with low incomes.

Similarly,  Assembly Bill 73  lets cities and counties designate “housing sustainability districts” to streamline new housing construction near transit corridors. The bill fast-tracks lawsuits challenging environmental review and requires that 20 percent of housing in a district be affordable to low-income residents.

Under Assembly Bill 72,  state housing officials will have expanded authority to report violations to the Attorney General if local governments are not complying with their own housing plans, or if their actions violate state law.

Assembly Bill 571 expands California’s low-income tax credit program, which helps fund low-income housing development, to include housing for farmworkers.

Assembly Bill 879  requires cities and counties to remove hurdles to housing production, such as by reducing how long it takes from approval of a housing project to getting construction permits.

Assembly Bill 1397 requires that parcels zoned for housing development must have access to sufficient infrastructure for water, sewer and other public utilities.

Assembly Bill 1505  allows local jurisdictions to require that at least 15 percent – of units in market-rate residential developments be set aside as affordable housing.

Assembly Bill 1515, makes it harder for local governments to turn down housing projects or emergency shelters if they meet existing zoning and other land-use regulations, and makes it more difficult for community groups to stop such projects.  

Assembly Bill 1521 strengthens a state law that requires public notification before low-income housing protections expire and units can be converted to market-rate.

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