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Prop. 46 Aims to Ease State's Housing Pinch

Measure would create or preserve up to 134,000 units and address a range of related needs.

October 30, 2002|Times Staff Writers

Tara Sheedy knew she could not afford a single-family house in San Jose. The median house costs $463,000. The high school algebra teacher makes $46,000 a year.

But after more than a year of searching for a townhouse -- a goal the conscientious saver thought was realistic -- Sheedy could not find one. When the school day ends, she heads to a house she shares with her dogs and three other teachers. She pays $600 a month rent for one room.

Supporters of Proposition 46 say Sheedy's dilemma, and that of other Californians like her, may help persuade voters to approve the $2.1-billion housing bond issue.

"What's resonating with people is that now the middle class needs support," said Jan Breidenbach of the Southern California Assn. of Non-Profit Housing. "The more people realize the housing crisis is [so] great, the more people are willing to do something about it."

In the language of advocates, California's affordable-housing crisis has "filtered up" the economic ladder. Long a problem for low-income people, it is now wreaking havoc in the lives of people like Sheedy, professionals still unable to purchase homes or rent decent apartments.

"I knew I wouldn't be able to buy a single-family home, which is what I'd really like," said Sheedy, who holds a master's degree. "But I thought I'd buy a townhouse and then start trading up. I was surprised that housing prices are as much as they are."

Proposition 46 is expected to create or preserve 131,000 to 134,000 units of housing statewide, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The bond issue would include money for a wide range of needs.

The legislative analyst's office estimates that the bonds would help about 60,000 Californians purchase homes, create about 30,000 new domestic violence and homeless shelter beds, and assist 10,000 farm worker families.

The bond money would be spread among 21 housing programs and would be administered by the state Department of Housing. In general, the money would be allocated in the form of low-interest loans to builders, grants to cities and down-payment assistance loans to home buyers.

Supporters say the money would stretch even further, with builders using it to attract other construction funds from lenders. According to state estimates, the $2.1 billion could leverage as much as $15 billion.

That money, supporters say, would help fill an unmet need. To house its booming population, California needs to create at least 200,000 housing units a year through 2020. But between 1990 and 2001, an average of 116,922 building permits were issued each year, according to a report last week by the California Budget Project.

If passed, the bonds would provide relief to those needing immediate shelter. On any given night, 360,000 Californians are homeless. Last year, 23,000 women and children were turned away from domestic violence shelters because there was no room.

"People are staying longer in marginal living conditions -- shelters, motels, hotels or in their cars -- than they might have five or 10 years ago because the market is so tight," said Ruth Schwartz, executive director of Shelter Partnership Inc., a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that supports homeless programs.

Opponents of the bond issue, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., argue that Proposition 46 would sink the state further into debt while doing little to resolve the housing crunch.

The legislative analyst's office estimates the bonds would cost the state $4.7 billion over 30 years, which includes the principle and $2.6 billion in interest.

"It's a massive bond," said Jon Coupal, president of the Jarvis group. "Its debt repayment cost exceeds the amount of proceeds to be used for programs.... California's credit rating is at the bottom of the heap right now, and that's a real concern."

In a newspaper commentary, state Sen. Ray Haynes (R-Riverside), a leading opponent of the proposition, said the bond issue is aimed at the very poor, not middle-class home-buyers.

"That means if you are not on welfare, homeless, or a farm worker, you get nothing," he wrote. "If all you are trying to do is find a house in the same time zone as your workplace, you are out of luck."

Yet, a long list of groups have lined up in support of the measure, from AARP to the California State Sheriff's Assn., and various chambers of commerce.

In San Francisco, where an estimated 8,000 to 15,000 people are homeless, those in the tourist industry say an increasingly visible homeless population is driving away business. The problem has emerged as a key election issue.

At New Directions, a residential rehabilitation facility in West Los Angeles, homeless veterans try to put their lives back together. They deal with their addictions, receive training in culinary arts or computers and eventually find jobs. But most make only about $8.75 an hour.

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