Newsom signs housing affordability laws, but critics say they overreach and won’t solve the problem

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mark hogan housing affordability
Affordable housing under construction earlier in West Sacramento.. Photo courtesy Mark Hogan https://www.flickr.com/photos/markhogan/

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed legislation allowing the construction of duplexes on most properties with one home but an analysis indicates that only a minority of homes would be converted. And most municipal leaders remain opposed to the law because it infringes on their traditional authorities.

The legislation also makes it easier to divide existing lots into two, potentially providing the opportunity for four homes to be built where one was previously allowed, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has reported.

The new law is part of a package of four bills Newsom signed Sept. 16 intended to enable more housing construction

The Construction Industry Research Board, which tracks building-permit data, has reported that over the past five years, the state has averaged 109,000 homes a year. The number declined to 100,500 in 2000 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Newsom in 2019 had set a goal in 2019 of building half a million new housing units a year for seven years to erase the estimated 3.5 million homes the state would need by 2025.

The WSJ reported that the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, found in an analysis earlier this year that 6.1 million of the state’s 7.5 million single-family lots would be eligible for the construction of duplexes or division under the new legislation. “Of those, 410,000 could potentially see more units constructed, the analysis found,” the published report says. “The rest face space limitations or wouldn’t be financially feasible.”

Local elected leaders were unhappy with the bill. Leaders from more than 260 cities signed a League of California Cities letter asking Gov. Newsom to veto the bill because “it does not guarantee the construction of affordable housing nor will it spur additional housing development in a manner that supports local flexibility, decision-making, and community input.”

And affordable housing advocates say the law has no provisions requiring that the new housing be within the range of lower-income households.

However, proponents of the legislation say the new rules will help address the supply and affordability issue.

“For too many Californians, the idea of owning a home, renting a house big enough for their family, or even just being able to live in the community where they work is a far-off dream,” San Diego State Sen. Toni Atkins said in a statement. “This law will help close the gap and make those dreams a reality.” Atkins wrote the bill.

In a statement, Newsom said: “The housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity,” said Governor Newsom. “Making a meaningful impact on this crisis will take bold investments, strong collaboration across sectors and political courage from our leaders and communities to do the right thing and build housing for all. I thank Pro Tem Atkins and all the Legislature’s leaders on housing for their vision and partnership to keep California moving forward on this fundamental issue.”

The governor’s news release said the California Housing Accelerator would expedite construction of an estimated 6,500 shovel-ready affordable multi-family units in projects stalled due to constraints on the supply of tax-exempt bonds and low-income housing tax credits.

The statement also said  California Comeback Plan is investing “an unprecedented $22 billion in housing and homelessness which will lead to the creation of over 84,000 new affordable homes for Californians, including over 44,000 new housing units and treatment beds for people exiting homelessness.”

“This plan marks the most significant investment in housing in California’s history with $10.3 billion proposed for housing and over $12 billion for the unhoused,” the statement said.

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