California lawmakers advanced key housing legislation late Thursday, clearing the most substantial hurdle for a package of bills aimed at addressing the state's housing affordability crisis.
Legislators in the Assembly passed Senate Bill 2, a $75 fee on mortgage refinances and other real estate transactions except for home and commercial property sales. The measure is expected to raise $250 million a year to help finance new and rehabilitated developments for low-income residents — a key step, lawmakers said, in beginning to get housing costs under control.
"We are living during the worst housing crisis our state has ever experienced," said Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco).
The bill required two-thirds support from Assembly members, a threshold that the bill's author, Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), and legislative leaders had been struggling to meet. Assembly Democrats, who hold exactly a supermajority, have been wary of backing a measure that would increase fees. The lack of a decision on SB 2 had been holding up votes on potentially more than a dozen housing bills in the Legislature.
Thursday night, that struggle became clear. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) held the roll call vote open for nearly an hour, two votes shy of the 54 it needed to pass. Three Democrats were holdouts: Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes of Riverside, Assemblyman Marc Levine of San Rafael and Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian of North Hollywood.
Cervantes, who is one of the Democrats most at risk of losing her seat in the 2018 elections, stood calmly by her desk while Rendon and other legislators lobbied Levine and Nazarian.
One of the three was able to hold off supporting the bill because Republican Assemblyman Brian Maienschien of San Diego voted in favor. His support allowed Cervantes to vote no.
In his speech on the floor, Maienschien cited growing homelessness concerns in his city and his history working for a nonprofit on homelessness issues.
"To do nothing, to me, isn't an option," Maienschien said.
After the vote, Rendon hailed the decision as a "first in a generation" move to create a new, ongoing source of funding for low-income housing developments.
"This is a tremendous accomplishment," he said.
Rendon also denied that Levine and Nazarian received any promises in exchange for their votes on SB 2. He said the lobbying efforts simply consisted of him answering questions the two had about the bill.
"There were no side deals in this at all," he said. "This was about the housing crisis that Californians have experienced for over a generation."
Alongside SB 2, the Assembly passed five other housing bills Thursday night, including two others considered the primary parts of the package of housing bills. Senate Bill 3 would place a $4-billion bond on the 2018 statewide ballot to finance low-income home building and provide home loans for military veterans. Senate Bill 35 would ease some local development restrictions in an effort to spur more home building.
SB 3 also required a two-thirds vote and received exactly that, with Maienschien and Republican Assemblywoman Catharine Baker of Dublin in favor, and Nazarian and Democrat Adam Gray of Merced holding out.
All measures that passed Thursday night face votes in the Senate before lawmakers adjourn for the year on Friday. But similar versions of the bills have passed the Senate previously, and Thursday's decisions were considered the most difficult.
"We're making huge strides tonight," said Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto).
Gov. Jerry Brown has said he supports SB 2, 3 and 35, and has indicated his broader backing for other housing legislation still pending in both chambers.
11:52 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details and quotes from Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.