New regional agency wants more taxes for housing

This story was originally published in the Monday, Jan. 7, edition of the Daily Post.

Daily Post Correspondent

As lawmakers in Sacramento prepare to attack the state’s housing crisis during the new legislative session, their efforts may get a boost from a regional body whose mission is housing creation and preservation.

The group, called the Committee to House the Bay Area, or CASA for short, was the creation of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments, two regional planning organizations for the nine-county Bay Area. CASA has included about 50 members representing local governments, businesses and nonprofits.

Over the last two years, CASA developed a 10-point plan, or “compact,” to address the area’s housing shortfall. MTC approved the compact on Dec. 19 and ABAG is scheduled to vote on it on Jan. 17.

And on Friday (Jan. 11), the MTC Legislation Committee will discuss bills that have already been introduced and are related to CASA’s goals.

“It is certain that housing will be a major theme in Sacramento in 2019,” MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger said in a report to the committee. “Not only did Gov. Newsom make housing a key element of his gubernatorial campaign, but the Senate recreated a stand-alone Housing Committee chaired by former (MTC) commissioner, Sen. Scott Wiener.”

Wiener drew attention last year with his Senate Bill 827, which would have allowed larger housing complexes near public transit, bypassing local zoning. Although that bill died, Wiener is back this session with a similar bill, SB 50.

Also known as the More HOMES Act, SB 50 would remove restrictions on housing density within a half mile of fixed rail and a quarter mile of high-frequency bus stops. Density restrictions would also be removed in areas defined as “job-rich areas.”

55-foot height limits

Within a quarter mile of fixed rail, a city wouldn’t be able to impose height limits of less than 55 feet, or 45 feet if the housing is within a half mile of a major transit stop but farther than a quarter mile. Local height limits would still apply to buildings near bus stops and job-rich areas.

Housing that’s close to transit or in job-rich areas wouldn’t be required to provide more than half a parking space per unit, under the legislation.

Although MTC has yet to weigh in on SB 50, item No. 5 of the CASA compact calls for “minimum zoning near transit” that would set minimum height limits of 55 feet near major transit stops. The compact proposes minimum height limits of 36 feet for middle-income housing in areas with high-quality bus service. The compact cites Wiener’s SB 827 as a reference.

Heminger said MTC will consider possible changes to item No. 5 in the CASA compact over the next month, based on feedback the commission receives.

Proposal would make passing taxes easier

Another housing-related bill is ACA 1, a proposed constitutional amendment introduced by Assembly member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry of Winters.

It would reduce the level of voter approval needed for local government bond measures to fund affordable housing, as well as broadband or road projects. A two-thirds voter approval is now needed for such bond measures; ACA 1 would reduce that to 55%. That’s the level now required for local school district measures.

“By making this change, ACA 1 puts housing and infrastructure projects on par with school proposals, so that cities, counties, and special districts have a practical financing tool to address community needs,” Aguiar-Curry said.

ACA 1 would also make it easier for cities to come up with matching funds for federal grants, she said.

CASA wants $1.5 billion in taxes annually

The bill ties in with CASA’s objective to raise $1.5 billion per year for housing projects, with another $1 billion per year coming from state and federal sources.

Other housing-related bills introduced in Sacramento thus far are place-holder bills, which state a purpose but don’t yet spell out details. One of those is Assembly Bill 36, from Assemblyman Richard Bloom, which aims to “stabilize rental prices and increase the availability of affordable rental units.”

SB 6 from Sen. Jim Beall would address the housing shortage by “streamlining approval processes, identifying sufficient and adequate sites for housing construction, and penalizing local decision-making and planning that restrict housing production.”

Heminger of MTC said last month that there’s currently a “moment of opportunity” for tackling housing issues.

Bay Area legislators serve on key housing committees and appear committed to take action on the issue, he said. In addition, he said, the CASA compact represents consensus among many area stakeholders on a legislative agenda to “break through the Bay Area’s housing stalemate.”

“If ever there was a ‘carpe diem’ moment to remedy the region’s chronic housing failures, this is it,” Heminger said.

Previous stories about CASA

Dec. 20, 2018 — Regional housing agency formed, tax increases eyed

Oct. 6, 2018 — Regional housing agency in the works, hopes to raise $1.5 billion a year


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