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Assembly Democrats say addressing the housing affordability crisis is next, but hurdles loom

Assembly Democrats gather to discuss their 2017 housing plans, April 17, 2017 (Liam Dillon / Los Angeles Times)
Assembly Democrats gather to discuss their 2017 housing plans, April 17, 2017 (Liam Dillon / Los Angeles Times)

Addressing California’s housing affordability crisis is the next priority of Assembly Democrats, nine lawmakers said at a Monday press conference at a downtown Sacramento low-income housing complex.

Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) said that after legislators passed a major transportation funding package earlier this month, housing was the state’s most significant unresolved issue.

“Like transportation, we need to put our money where our mouth is,” Chiu said.

But any major housing effort faces substantial hurdles in terms of prioritization and garnering support necessary for passage.

Housing might not really be next

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) joined Chiu and his colleagues at the press conference. But afterward Rendon didn’t commit to putting housing issues ahead of re-authorizing the state’s main financial program to combat climate change, another major priority on legislative Democrats’ docket.

“I'm saying housing is next because these bills are coming to committee now,” Rendon said. “But obviously a lot of this stuff runs concurrently. For now, our focus is on housing.”

Housing might not get addressed in upcoming budget negotiations

Last year, Assembly Democrats asked for more than $1 billion in low-income housing spending as part of budget talks. Gov. Jerry Brown whittled that number down to $400 million that would only be allocated if the Legislature agreed to his plan to loosen local rules for approving developments that included low-income housing. Lawmakers balked under intense pushback from labor and environmental groups, among others, and a deal never happened.

Rendon said he didn’t know if Assembly members would make a similar request to fund housing during this year’s budget talks, which begin in earnest next month.

“The conversations weren't very fruitful last year,” Rendon said. “If there are different conditions we're certainly open to having those conversations.”

Lawmakers could face many votes to increase taxes

The transportation package passed by the Legislature included a 12-cent increase in the gasoline tax, many other fee hikes and squeaked through the necessary two-thirds supermajority without a vote to spare.

Brown is aiming for another two-thirds vote to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program, which charges businesses to pollute in an effort to fight climate change. Political observers already believe the transportation vote makes it harder to get another one for the environment.

Housing measures, including Chiu’s bid to end the state’s mortgage interest deduction on second, vacation homes and spend that money on low-income housing instead, also require a two-thirds supermajority. Rendon said he believed his colleagues could sign off on a two-thirds vote for housing as well.

“I hope so,” he said. “It's important. It's a caucus priority for sure.”

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