Poor Californians Rally to Defeat Democrat Bill to Expand Affordable Housing

YIMBY (chris.wojtewicz / Flickr / CC / Re-scaled)
chris.wojtewicz / Flickr / CC / Re-scaled

An attempt by California Democrats to increase affordable housing by ending zoning restrictions near urban transit stations was dropped last month due to a revolt by the urban poor whom the bill was ostensibly intended to benefit.

San Francisco’s State Senator Scott Wiener had built a big coalition of Yes In My Backyard (“YIMBY”) advocates who claimed they could solve the affordable housing crisis and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by ending urban zoning restrictions to allow unlimited stack-and-pack apartment construction adjacent to transit stations.

But it was bad liberal media theater when hundreds of advocates for SB 827 were filmed two weeks ago at a San Francisco City Hall rally screaming, “Read the Bill,” to drown out local Filipino, Chinese, and black residents that oppose what they fear would gentrify heir neighborhoods and wipe out existing low-income housing.

“The scene of predominantly white protesters shouting over people of color fed a criticism that has dogged backers of recent legislative efforts to boost home building,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

Wiener’s housing bill would have prohibited all local zoning control for height, size, number of apartment units, restrictive design standards, and other provisions within a half-mile of a train station or a quarter-mile of a frequently used bus stop.

Given that the San Francisco Bay Area and the City of Los Angeles have built massive municipal train and bus service networks, SB 827 could have drastically cut developers’ costs and sped up the pace of construction.

SB-827 would also have established a minimum height of 45 to 85 feet, depending on street width, for new housing units that abut transit corridors. Critics claimed the concept would have resulted in skyscrapers huddled around every subway stop along major city streets.

California local governments have made sky-high zoning and construction permitting fees the equivalent of huge property tax increases. According to BuilderOnline.com, California metropolitan building construction fees average at 11 percent of FHA mortgage values — almost four times the national average. Such zoning costs and restrictions are blamed for decades of under-building that have resulted in California having 6 of America’s 10 most expensive metro areas in the nation.

But community groups that work with the poor opposed SB 827, because they expect city politicians and real estate interests to game the bill by shutting down urban bus routes. The Crenshaw Coalition published a position paper stating that “SB 827 is a Declaration of War on South LA” by “corporate Democrats who sell out working class people.”

“Like President Jackson’s Indian Removal Act,” the paper argued (original link and emphasis), “SB 827 seeks to exile low-income people of color who currently live in the urban centers of commerce, culture and community that WE have built, to far-flung places that go by the name of Victorville, Lancaster, and Palmdale, or even worse onto the street.”

SB 827 may have been pulled due to bad optics, but the leading California Democrat candidate for governor, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, is campaigning for more affordable housing by pointing to a McKinsey & Company study that claims California will need 3.5 million new residences by 2025. That works out to about 437,500 new units per year, versus the 88,562 new units built in 2016.

Weiner wrote in a Medium post that the McKinsey study sees great potential for transit-oriented development. Weiner claimed California already has 1.16 million qualifying transit-oriented housing units and that SB 827 could motivate the building of 3 million more units.


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