California considers major housing bills in 2018

California considers major housing bills in 2018

The state’s housing crisis is back on the agenda as California lawmakers return to work after a months-long recess.

Proposals floated on the first week of the year would bring major changes to laws governing property taxes, rent control, and local zoning rules. Senate Democrats are also proposing a work-around for the recent GOP tax overhaul, which set a $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions.

“Last year we passed a historic housing package, but it was just the beginning,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco. “Given that it took decades to create the housing crisis that we’re in, it’s going to take years of policy making and housing creation to get us out.”

This year’s debates come as the crushing cost of housing makes living in California ever less affordable — and just months after Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a package of 15 hard-fought housing bills to raise money for affordable housing and to force local governments to more quickly approve housing developments.

Even in that context, the bills promise to raise plenty of controversy. Santa Monica Assemblyman Richard Bloom’s proposal to repeal a 23-year-old law that blocks cities from adopting certain rent control rules faced such fierce landlord opposition last year that it didn’t even get a hearing. And some cities will be sure to fight a new bill from Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, that would require local governments to allow taller apartment buildings near transit hubs.

“This is a hard bill, it’s an important bill, and the most impactful bills are often the hardest,” Wiener said about his zoning proposal.

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Here is a look at some of the 2018 housing legislation so far:

Rent control fight: Should California repeal a landmark 1995 law that keeps local rent control ordinances in check? The law, known as Costa Hawkins, blocks cities from applying rent-control policies to homes built after 1995 or to single-family homes. It is hugely popular among landlords, but some advocacy groups for renters are demanding that the state lift those restrictions, allowing cities to address runaway rents as they see fit. Bloom’s Assembly Bill 1506 has a hearing Thursday. But even if his proposal dies, a similar one might find its way onto the statewide ballot this fall. Supporters are gathering signatures for a repeal.

New tax breaks for homeowners? Republican Assemblyman Marc Steinorth argues that some longtime homeowners feel stuck in their single-family homes because moving could force them to pay much higher property taxes. Proposition 13, passed in 1978, keeps annual property tax increases to a minimum, even if a house quadruples in value, until a property changes hands. The California Association of Realtors is gathering signatures to qualify an initiative that would let those over 55 take their low property tax base with them anywhere in the state, as many times as they move.

Steinorth’s Assembly Bill 1748 would do the same — and take it further, allowing those under 55 to transfer their tax base once. Proponents argue this will free up more single-family homes for younger families, but it might be a tough sell for Democrats; the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated the Realtors’ proposal could eventually cost schools and local governments billions of dollars per year.

Down payment help: Steinorth is bringing back a revised version of a proposal he introduced last year: to help aspiring first-time home buyers save up for a down payment with a special savings plan. The money would be withdrawn, tax-free, as with a Roth IRA or 529 college savings plan.

Homeowner Bill of Rights: Portions of this five-year-old state law expired Jan. 1, and Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, has introduced legislation — Senate Bill 818 — to renew mortgage and foreclosure protections, such as the right to appeal when a loan modification application is denied. The is especially critical, Beall said, “because so many families hit by wildfires in Northern and Southern California will be coping with financial setbacks as they seek to rebuild their homes.”

More apartment buildings: Wiener, a former San Francisco supervisor who has seen his share of local development fights up close, last year pushed through legislation to streamline the approval of new housing near transit, taking away some local control from city councils and planning commissions — a law that took effect Jan. 1.

Now he is back with Senate Bill 827, which would require cities to allow denser housing developments to be built within a half mile of transit hubs such as BART, Caltrain and Muni stations and within a quarter mile of major bus lines. He plans to introduce it Thursday. “The concept behind the bill,” Wiener said, “is actually quite simple: We want denser and taller housing near public transportation. We want housing to be focused near transit so that people will drive less.”

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