Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders announced Monday that the state's housing crisis will be at the top of their agenda when lawmakers return in August from a monthlong break.
Now they have to figure out whether what they put together actually can pass.
Housing bills under consideration involve new funding, which requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Democrats hold bare supermajorities in the Senate and Assembly and can only afford to have one assembly member of their caucus vote against a housing plan if it is to pass on a party-line vote.
Already, one influential Democrat is balking.
Assemblyman Adam Gray of Merced, who leads a coalition of business-aligned Democrats, said the state needs to do more to penalize cities and counties that are blocking development before agreeing to spend more dollars subsidizing projects.
"Communities that aren't acting in good faith shouldn't be rewarded with more money," Gray said.
Gray's comments underscore the tough politics surrounding the housing debate, especially as Democratic lawmakers could be wary of voting for more measures that raise taxes and fees after increasing the gas tax this year and on Monday extending cap and trade, the state's primary program to fight global warming.
For those reasons, progressive Democrats in the Assembly pushed for a housing resolution during cap-and-trade discussions. They worried legislation to increase low-income housing subsidies might fall by the wayside without a firm commitment from the governor to support them, and wanted a decision at the same time as cap and trade.
"It's been a little bit hard to 'wait our turn,' " said Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), one of the advocates for faster action on housing.
Instead of a vote, progressive Assembly Democrats received a commitment from Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) to back a housing deal that includes a new state funding source for low-income developments, a bond measure also to subsidize low-income projects and efforts to lessen regulations for building homes. The trio hasn't offered further details, but Bonta said conversations have centered on four parts:
- Senate Bill 2 from Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), which would levy a $75 fee on real estate transactions to raise roughly $250 million a year for low-income developments.
- Senate Bill 3 from Jim Beall (D-San Jose), which would put a $3-billion housing bond on the 2018 statewide ballot.
- Senate Bill 35 from Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), which would force cities that have fallen behind on state goals for home building in their communities to ease development regulations.
- A larger share of the money generated by cap-and-trade auctions, the mechanism by which businesses pay to pollute, for housing projects.
The three bills have passed the Senate, with SB 2 and SB 3 requiring two-thirds votes, and are awaiting a decision in the Assembly.
Ray Pearl, executive director of the California Housing Consortium, said he is disappointed that lawmakers, after a recent history of failed housing legislation, again put off a decision. But he's encouraged that it's now the top priority.
"We've seen that when there is legislative and gubernatorial leadership, the two-thirds hurdle is high but not insurmountable," Pearl said.
At a news conference Monday night celebrating the cap-and-trade deal, Brown said he was confident a housing package was going to pass, too.
"We're committed to doing serious work on affordable housing, and we'll get it done," Brown said.