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Legislative Package to Tackle Lack of Affordable Housing

April 20, 2001|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Housing advocates and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers are sponsoring a package of legislation designed to increase the availability and affordability of housing in California, where a growing shortage threatens the health of the hottest job markets.

Although cities and counties have struggled with the issue on their own, the package of eight bills aims to stitch together a state framework to tackle the problem. The measures were crafted by the Job-Center Housing Coalition--a nonprofit organization of housing, consumer, business, ethnic and labor organizations.

The bills aim to improve the pace of construction and affordability of housing while encouraging "smart growth"--development that doesn't contribute to suburban sprawl, reduces commutes and protects the environment, said coalition co-chair SunneWright McPeak, who heads the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored public policy organization.

"It's applying a little bit of stick and a lot of carrot so that jurisdictions accommodate more housing and allow the marketplace to operate," McPeak said. "What we have really tried to underscore is . . . the need for adequate supply, but as important is the need to tackle the affordability crunch."

Legislators are consumed by the state's energy troubles, but proponents of the bills say a relevant lesson can be drawn from the crisis: "It's a perfect example of what happens when infrastructure needs are deferred," McPeak said. "The message that this coalition is trying to send is . . . don't let the same thing happen with housing."

Several bills face opposition, including a measure that aims to cut down on construction-defect litigation in an effort to encourage more townhouse and condominium development. The bill, AB 600, is fiercely opposed by trial lawyers and homeowners associations. Still, the package has drawn support and sponsorship from Democrats and Republicans alike.

"The bills are very worthy bills," said Assemblyman John Dutra (D-Fremont), who authored AB 600. "If you can get all of them passed without substantial modification, it would go a long way toward solving the affordable housing problem."

Added Assemblyman Anthony Pescetti (R-Rancho Cordova), author of AB 1114, which establishes incentives for cleanup and development of contaminated sites, or "brownfields": "To deal with these issues, you've got to bring everybody together."

In addition to those bills, the following measures are part of the package:

* AB 1086: Streamlines the environmental review process for urban "infill" residential projects, which are homes built on vacant or redeveloped parcels close to city centers. It's sponsored by Assemblyman Thomas Calderon (D-Montebello).

* AB 1170: Provides down-payment grants for new home buyers in cities and counties that have acted to remove barriers to affordable housing. It is sponsored by Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles).

* AB 1284: Provides property tax rewards to local governments in key job centers that approve and build affordable housing for their work force. Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) sponsored the bill.

* SB 401: This bill by Sen. Nell Soto (D-Pomona) establishes a tax credit program for low-income working families buying first homes.

* SB 714: Requires that cities and counties look at their anticipated housing needs for the next 20 years when revising the housing element of their general plan. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks).

* SB 910. This bill by Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) would impose sanctions on cities and counties that fail to comply with existing state affordable housing rules.

The range of legislation marks a new level of state attention to the housing problem, said Carol Galante, president of San Francisco-based BRIDGE Housing Corp. and a coalition member.

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* CITIES OPPOSE MEASURE: City officials decry a bill that would penalize communities that don't meet state affordable-housing requirements. A3

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