Newsom’s top housing advisor says ‘start with yes’

Gov. Gavin Newsom has made housing affordability a top priority of his administration on several occasions. But having a good reading of his mind can be difficult.

At a panel discussion hosted by Capitol Weekly on May 26, Jason Elliott, Newsom’s top housing and homelessness advisor, provided an overview. The big takeaway: California lacks millions of homes and cities hold the key.

“We have the wrong reflex around housing as it is. We start with no. No, we shouldn’t be building there, ”Elliott said. “Let’s start with yes, unless there is a reason not to build.”

Getting cities and counties to say yes to housing is a long battle in California. To move the needle, Elliott launched the statewide housing accountability unit, which Newsom proposed in its January budget. With a proposed budget of $ 4.3 million, the unit would hold cities against fire when they violate existing housing law and help them take advantage of laws already in place that streamline regulations and permits. .

One example: a 2013 law designed to increase infill development in “green zones,” which Elliott said could potentially allow the construction of millions of housing units.

So what about the multitude of housing bills on the State Capitol? Some policy bills face a key deadline this week, but Elliott declined to comment on specific bills, including Senate Bill 9, which would allow homeowners to put a duplex on single-family lots or to divide them. He said the governor would generally support any move to change the default to yes on more homes.

He also stressed that it is just as important as the adoption of new legislation to implement the laws already in force. “The signing of a governor does not build new units,” he said.

Elliott said he was watching “with joy” the Biden administration’s $ 5 billion proposal as part of its infrastructure plan to encourage local governments to end exclusionary zoning and other practice.

“We’re taking the same path here,” Elliott said.

Elliott dodged another question, whether the administration would seek to extend the statewide moratorium on evictions, which is due to end on June 30, as the state doubles its relief funds. rents with an additional $ 2.6 billion from the federal government.

The state has struggled to get tenants and landlords to sign up for existing benefits. As a result, the state announced it would streamline the process to get more money faster.

“An end-of-time moratorium that doesn’t provide a sufficient advantage to get people to sign up,” Elliott said, stopping. “We need people to register. This is the number one goal.

Elliott said Newsom’s almost certain recall later this year did not affect his positions on housing either, highlighting the governor’s state-of-the-state speech in 2020, where housing and homelessness occupied the front of the stage. He pointed to $ 12 billion in the governor’s budget proposal for housing and homelessness and $ 1.75 billion to start construction of over 6,000 affordable housing units overdue.

Elliott said if the state can build homes for the homeless and the very poor, the private sector is key to alleviating the housing shortage.

“It’s not really realistic to assume that we’re going to subsidize our way out of this,” Elliott said. “That’s why we need the private sector to do what it does, which is to build houses.”

Elliott was joined on the virtual panel, moderated by CalMatters, by Jennifer Svec, legislative counsel for the California Association of Realtors; Assembly Member Buffy Wicks, a Democrat from East Bay; and Adam Fowler, research director at Beacon Economics, who all agreed that a supply shortage was largely responsible for soaring house prices.

In the Bay Area, the median home price climbed to an all-time high of $ 1.3 million and the statewide median home price surpassed $ 800,000 last month.

Some other highlights from the discussion:

Regarding house prices, Svec refrained from calling the Californian real estate market a “bubble”. She expects the housing market to remain much more stable this time around than after the 2008 foreclosure crisis, and doesn’t expect prices to drop anytime soon.

The State Building and Construction Trades Council lobbied to include a requirement in housing bills that would force new units to be built with unionized workers. Many affordable housing developers argue that there is simply no labor available, so this mandate would only increase the cost of construction.

In response, Fowler agreed that California, like the rest of the country, faces a serious labor shortage, “union or otherwise.” But with so many other cost factors – like soaring lumber prices – wages aren’t the problem.

“You can’t bid enough on the workforce to get the people you need, so that’s a moot point for the foreseeable future,” he said. “The development of the workforce for these skilled trades is going to be so essential.

Regarding the moratorium on evictions, Wicks said she was working closely with the office of Assembly Member David Chiu to ensure tenants are protected but landlords receive unpaid rents.

“I hope we start to see a stronger economic recovery from COVID, although I think it will be a very uneven recovery,” she said. “I think this is going to have a disproportionate impact on low income communities, black and brown communities, so making sure people use the benefits that I think are key.”

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