California, a state that long has prided itself on welcoming newcomers, is out of reach for far too many people who want to build their lives here.
As The Sacramento Bee’s Phillip Reese reported on Sunday, lower-income people, many of them starting out, must leave for lower-cost states such as Texas. The exorbitant cost of housing is driving many of them away.
Sen. Scott Wiener, a freshman Democrat from San Francisco, is taking up the worthy cause of helping to bring more affordable housing to California’s urban areas, including his own.
His Senate Bill 35, which faced its first hearing Tuesday in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, would streamline the permitting process in cities that have failed to provide sufficient affordable housing. The committee approved the bill, and then referred it to the Governance and Finance Committee for refinement.
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The measure takes up where an effort by Gov. Jerry Brown to increasing housing stock left off last year. The earlier proposal died because of opposition by some environmental advocates and building-trades unions.
Wiener’s proposal includes several safeguards. The housing cannot be built on prime farmland. It must be near public transportation. It also must be in-fill projects. In short, Wiener envisions placing housing where it ought to be: within set urban boundaries.
All too often, California has a hard time agreeing to build much of anything, big or small, as Brown can attest. The governor’s failure to win approval of his rather modest proposal last year was unfortunate. The problem of affordable housing isn’t getting better on its own. The state must step in to ease cost pressure where it can.
One avenue worth pursuing is bringing back the Redevelopment Agency – without the loopholes that led to abuses and Brown’s successful push to kill it. If done right, allowing local RDAs to designate a percentage of tax increments to affordable housing will benefit California and cut down on the exodus of families that Reese chronicled in his story.
We Californians pride ourselves on being open and welcoming. We celebrate that we have more new Americans than any other state. We are, in many ways, the new Ellis Island, and proud of it. And yet too many of us want nothing built in our backyard; it’s a fundamental disconnect.
In the past, business groups have cited the cost of doing business, regulations and high taxes when corporations and wealthy people relocate to lower-cost states.
There has not been the same outcry over lower-income people departing. But when young and aspiring people are squeezed out of the housing market, they take their energy with them, and that’s a loss for us all.