A really bad housing bill that Gov. Jerry Brown has been pushing may be dead for now – but opponents are keeping a close eye on the Legislative leadership, where strange things happen at the last minute.

The guv wants to allow anyone to build housing anywhere in the state without the normal local community oversight. It would set a very low minimum for affordable housing, and block the ability of community groups and local government to demand and negotiate better deals.

Jerry can't get his bill passed -- so he's blocking affordable housing money
Jerry can’t get his bill passed — so he’s blocking affordable housing money

But Brown really wants this to happen, so he’s made a nasty kind of offer: The skinflint governor who has never put even a few pennies into real affordable housing has agreed to add $400 million in housing money to the budget – but only if his by-right measure passes.

In fact, he made it part of the budget process, in an attempt to force the affordable-housing community to support it. And some, like Randy Shaw, are arguing that the measure isn’t all that bad, and that housing groups shouldn’t be fighting it:

Legislative backers of affordable housing funding made a smart deal, as passage of “as of right” would eliminate the chief roadblock to Brown’s support for housing funding in future years. It could pave the way for over a billion dollars in new affordable housing funding to be allocated in the next few years.

But labor has a problem with the bill (there’s no guarantee of union jobs in the new development Brown envisions). Environmentalists have a problem with the bill, which is another attack on CEQA. And tenants and affordable housing groups, including Tenants Together, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, and ACCE, say it will lead to displacement – and very little affordable housing.

Brown's bill would lead to displacement -- and very little affordable housing
Brown’s bill would lead to displacement — and very little affordable housing

Shaw thinks this could “lead the way” to more housing money, but that’s not in the deal – and might never materialize. Instead, the governor and the developers get to build market-rate housing, displacing existing vulnerable communities, and the entire state of California gets … $400 million.

That would build maybe, maybe, 1,000 units in San Francisco, maybe twice that number in other communities. So the state, which needs billions and billions of dollars in housing money, would get so little that, for all practical purposes, nobody would notice. The impact on homelessness and the need for affordable housing would be vastly outweighed by the increase in homelessness and affordable housing needs caused by dumping unlimited market-rate development into working-class communities that would have no legal right to fight back, or even to demand concessions from giant developers.


The various sides have been meeting for months, but Brown won’t give an inch – so the housing, labor, and environmental groups have walked away.

As of August 17, the affordable housing groups have said it’s time for the governor to admit that his by-right housing plan is going nowhere, and to free up the $400 million:

“Legislators and Governor Brown still have an opportunity to build homes affordable to thousands of Californians who can’t even afford to rent a decent place to live,” said Julie Snyder, with California’s Planning and Conservation League.   “This money is a direct investment in reducing our state’s horrific level of homelessness caused by high housing costs and low wages.”

The truth is, Inglis said, there’s very little support in the state Legislature for Brown’s idea. (Not that many legislators, many of whom were once local elected officials, like the idea of giving up local land-use controls, some for the right reasons, some for the wrong ones.) The only way Brown could get any traction was to tie it to the budget and to affordable housing money.

“The governor released a statement complaining that we all walked away,” Aimee Inglis, acting director of Tenants Together, told me. “The truth is he decided to shove this proposal down our throats as part of the budget process instead of going through the normal legislative process.”

The Legislature has until the end of August to act on this, and under normal circumstances, it would be dead. But Sacramento is strange, and a small number of players can pull crazy stunts, so housing advocates remain vigilant. And we will, too.