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California’s affordable housing crisis must be addressed

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California leaders have pledged to protect our state’s prized values of inclusion, equity and opportunity as the nation ushers in a new political era.

There is nothing that embodies these principles more than ensuring that all Californians have a safe place to live.

Unfortunately, Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2017-18 budget plan offers no new investment in affordable-home construction despite the fact that his own administration has declared that California’s housing crisis is as bad as it has ever been.

California’s Department of Housing and Community Development has issued a new assessment of the state’s housing challenges, reporting that California families face a harder time finding a place to live than at any point in our history and that homeownership rates in California are at their lowest since the 1940s. And more than 1.5 million households in California pay more than half of their income toward rent, leading to an enormity of overcrowded and unhealthy rental homes and income instability.

It’s clear that without action at the state level, the crisis will grow year by year and take a disproportionate toll on disadvantaged communities.

Already, a decade of disinvestment has starved local communities of seed dollars to bring affordable homes to struggling neighborhoods. California has seen a 69 percent overall decline in state and federal investment in production and preservation of affordable housing since the depths of the recession in 2008. Laws that require local governments to plan to accommodate jobs and growth haven’t resulted in the promised affordable development.

The consequences of this inaction are far reaching. Young Californians cannot afford homes near schools and employment, and housing shortages are leading to pollution-generating sprawl. Veterans, immigrants and low-income workers are being shut out of the opportunity to lay down roots, protect their health and raise families.

The shortage of affordable housing also has a snowball effect on our economy as a whole.

Not surprisingly, the lack of supply, the report states, is leading to growing inequality and shrinking opportunity. The sad fact is that our state’s own backward policies are driving homelessness and poverty, and are impacting the economic, environmental health of the state.

Californians spend $300 million in taxes every year to subsidize purchases of second homes for some Californians, which is shameful when you consider that California is home to 12 percent of the nation’s population, but a disproportionate 22 percent of the nation’s homeless population.

Working together, lawmakers and Brown can turn things around and create a California where hardworking families, children, seniors, veterans and vulnerable residents have a place to call home. Through Assembly Bill 71 by David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and Senate Bill 2 by Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, California has the opportunity to invest in proven affordable-home programs, boost the economy and create jobs – all without general fund commitment.

California’s affordable-home builders are encouraged that Brown has committed to work with the Legislature to reduce barriers to construction. To that end, we urge Brown to support Assembly Bill 72 by Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, to promote the local accountability needed to ensure plans for affordable homes result in actual places for workers and families to live.

Ben Metcalf, the state housing and community development secretary, has said, “Because these are housing challenges that have been created through policies, we know we can fix them.”

We call on our elected leaders to make good on their commitment to preserve California values of inclusion, health and economic opportunity – by fixing broken policies that deprive too many Californians of a place to call home.

Ray Pearl is executive director of the California Housing Consortium, a nonprofit advocacy group. He can be contacted at info@calhsng.org.

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