Viewpoints

To fix its housing crisis, California needs to get its own house in order. Here’s how

As California’s chief financial officer, I see the lack of affordable housing as a real and immediate crisis affecting the state’s economy, as well as millions of individual livelihoods. It is time for aggressive action, and that includes getting our government’s own house in order.

The first step: Gov. Gavin Newsom should create one unified housing agency.

Over the years, well-intended policies, programs and funding streams have been layered across at least six state entities under the administration of multiple elected officials. Under this burdensome and duplicative bureaucracy, housing developers typically are required to secure commitments from several of the state authorities as well as other sources in order to create financially viable projects.

Opinion

Through my roles on the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee and the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee, I see opportunities for coordination that could jump-start building and maximize efficient use of the state’s finite housing funds.

Imagine if California created a centralized structure with a unified data system, coordinated applications and funding cycles, and simplified project reviews and monitoring. Through a one-stop shop, an individual housing project could apply through multiple programs and more quickly receive definitive feedback regarding viability and eligible funding streams.

Betty Yee Headshot Blue (2).jpg
Betty T. Yee

The secretary of this new housing agency would be responsible for all homelessness mitigation and affordable housing programs, and with deploying statewide priorities with clear authority and accountability. The agency could promptly implement critical improvements to program administration and develop more consistent public policy.

California is the only state with major housing departments reporting through different elected officials. Of the 10 next largest states, six have a single agency that oversees all major housing functions.

In the 2019-20 fiscal year alone, our state’s various housing entities will allocate more than $13 billion in funds and financing tools. Yet the current fragmentation of funding streams and programs pencil out to repetitive reviews, costly delays and unnecessary finger-pointing.

As state controller, I make it a priority to maximize returns on investment of taxpayer dollars, and I know we can do better when it comes to affordable housing. We must exercise courageous leadership in questioning the structure of government. If we want different outcomes for housing development, then we need a very different approach from the ground up.

Betty T. Yee is California’s state controller.
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