California needs to streamline affordable housing

The last refuges of affordability in California — places low-income families, farmworkers, immigrants, communities of color, and others struggling to afford the Golden State could still find housing they could afford — are quickly catching up with the rest of the state’s skyrocketing housing costs. Already unable to afford most high-resource, high-opportunity neighborhoods, these vulnerable populations are increasingly priced out of housing anywhere in California.

California needs to streamline affordable and mixed-income housing now more than ever, and considering the magnitude of our housing shortage, we’ll need to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. Senator Wiener’s SB 35, now back in the Legislature for an extension under SB 423, is a crucial tool that will help ensure critically needed housing can be built.

Rising prices in inland communities like those in Kern County are a reflection of the failure to build enough housing across the state. More and more Californians are leaving coastal communities where new housing has been nearly impossible to build, as well as bigger cities that aren’t doing enough to build needed housing near jobs and transit. These residents are increasingly moving to the Central Valley and Inland Empire to find homes they can afford and the housing crisis moves with them as demand outpaces supply and previously affordable cities become unaffordable. In Bakersfield, for example, rents have increased 39.4% over the past five years.

Photo by mars l

SB 35, which makes it easier and faster to build affordable housing, has been one of the few tools available to try to stem the crisis.

This month, the Terner Center released Streamlining Multifamily Housing Production in California: Progress Implementing SB 35, which found that over 18,000 new homes have either been approved or had an application pending for streamlining under SB 35 in the last six years. In Kern County, that has meant more than 100 new homes, all of which are affordable to low or very low-income families. And we’ve barely scratched the surface of how much new affordable housing an extension and expansion of SB 35 could bring to the Central Valley.

SB 35 has been effective across the state in part because it is so straightforward. It simply gives home builders an incentive to include affordable housing in their projects. Under SB 35, if you build 100% affordable housing, or help meet the affordable housing needs of your community with a mixed-income development, your project will be streamlined, allowing it to be built faster, easier and at lower cost.

This not only encourages otherwise market-rate projects to include some percentage of affordable housing, it also brings urgently needed homes to market faster. SB 35 doesn’t change local zoning or design standards — it requires projects to adhere to them in locally-planned multifamily infill areas.

The impact of the 18,000-plus new homes this bill has streamlined cannot be overstated. An affordable home can mean the difference between sleeping under a roof or sleeping on the streets, being able to meet the demands of a job or struggling to keep one, having food security or facing chronic hunger. Those 18,000 homes have undoubtedly made a huge difference to the individuals and families who now occupy them, and will in the future. But with more than 10 million Californians still rent burdened, and another 170,000 already unhoused, primarily due to the lack of available and affordable housing, it’s not enough.

We need legislators to extend SB 35 so we can continue its success and also broaden it so more communities can benefit. SB 423 extends SB 35 through 2035, while expanding it to ensure all cities in California that are falling behind on their housing goals have this tool at their disposal and are doing their part to build the housing our state desperately needs.

SB 35, had it been used more widely since it was first implemented, would have put an even bigger dent in the number of lives impacted by the opportunity to have safe, stable, affordable housing. We have a chance to take hold of that opportunity over the next 10 years, and the Legislature must seize it.

Written by Roberto Barragán is executive director of the California Community Economic Development Association. CCEDA comprises organizations actively engaged in revitalizing California’s neighborhoods, including resident-driven community development corporations, local governments, community action agencies and faith-based institutions.

As previously published on Bakersfield.com

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