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State Legislature Must Act to Provide Common Sense Fixes for Our Housing Crisis

By Natalya Zernitskaya

As California heads deeper into recession, the impact of our overpriced and undersupplied housing market has never been more dire.

In Santa Monica, renters need to earn $95,000 to afford a rent-controlled studio apartment[1] and the stock of rent-controlled units continues to steadily decrease.

The city is currently unable to meet its affordable-housing requirements, due in part to local governments failing to approve even a minimal number of affordable projects each year.

A 2017 report found that, at the current rate of approved projects per year, it would take 60 years[2] for Santa Monica to build enough housing stock to fill the gap.

Clearly, current policy is plagued with loopholes that limit enough new housing from being built and push even middle-earners out of the housing market.

We need to take a hard look at our responsibility to our working neighbors, including the workers at local restaurants and stores, healthcare providers and essential workers who are squeezed out of housing.

We need to ask ourselves: “What are we really trying to protect by artificially limiting housing stock?”

We should have no illusions about the impact current housing policies have on our communities. Decades of housing discrimination have concentrated multi-unit housing in low-income communities of color. This has created racially segregated neighborhoods and led to deep health and educational inequities.

If we truly want to create equal opportunities and integrated communities, we need housing policies that will make it possible for middle and lower-income Californians, not just the most wealthy, to afford to live in neighborhoods near jobs, transit and other desirable amenities.

Current state and local laws have made it extremely difficult for local governments to adopt forward-looking, housing-friendly zoning changes that will allow for modest increases in density -- even the mildest efforts to rezone properties are held up in protracted lawsuits.

In the coming weeks, California state legislators have the opportunity to change this. Proposed legislation (SB 902) would help diminish barriers that block the creation of dignified, abundant housing opportunities for young families, multigenerational households, and seniors who wish to age in place.

It would authorize local governments to rezone some areas for new housing with up to ten homes per parcel, and exempt some housing -- urban infill projects near high quality public transportation or jobs rich areas -- from the protracted CEQA lawsuits that prevent construction.

SB 902 will preserve local control by local officials while also making it faster, less expensive, and less risky for a city to undertake a community process to increase density in our communities.

It will also make it easier for local governments to comply with housing requirements they have to meet in a more streamlined way which is especially important now as their budgets tighten.

LA’s Westside is represented by Assemblymember Richard Bloom, who has long championed policy changes that support affordable and market-rate housing, including updates to the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act that allowed local jurisdictions to stabilize rents on units that are more than 10 years old, and single family rentals.

He also sought ways to make state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) goals more data-driven, allowing local governments to project housing needs taking into account factors such as job growth and regional constraints to housing development.

SB 902 is a logical continuation of this kind of practical reform and should be supported by Assemblymember Bloom and all local elected officials who want to see our housing crisis addressed.

We must face reality in cities like Santa Monica, Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, Mid-City where housing policy has pushed out lower-income residents, and is increasingly making the barriers to working here and raising a family too high for middle-income Californians.

This includes adopting new, more equitable policies to create more naturally affordable housing for the 90 percent of Californians who live in market rate housing.

It’s time to encourage demand and supply to come into balance so that housing stock will more accurately reflect actual demand, and correct course to make our communities stronger, healthier, and more inclusive.

SB 902 is a step in the right direction and Assemblymember Bloom and the California legislature must take action to pass this critical bill.

Natalya Zernitskaya is president of the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica

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