On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bundle of housing-related bills intended to accelerate development and provide new rights to tenants, and he announced an additional $137 million in funding for the state’s pioneering Homekey project.
The bills range from boosting multifamily housing development to exempting certain public transit projects from the California Environmental Quality Act. Homekey, a program designed to repurpose hotels, vacant apartment buildings and motels into permanent housing, awarded the funding to 15 communities across the state for 19 housing projects. Alameda County received about $14.5 million in funding.
“Homelessness is a crisis that cannot be solved by any one city alone, and we need support from the State,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín in an email. “This is especially true during COVID-19 which has disproportionately impacted low-income individuals.”
Oakland intends to utilize the Homekey funding for the purchase and renovation of Clifton Hall, a California College of the Arts residence hall in Rockridge, and Project Reclamation, which will develop 100 units of housing at 20 sites throughout Oakland, according to a city of Oakland press release.
The governor also brought into effect 15 bills tied to housing. SB 1157 and SB 1190 expand tenants’ rights, requiring landlords to help lower-income households build credit and broadening the circumstances in which tenants can terminate their leases without penalty, while AB 831 aims to streamline housing development.
SB 1079, introduced by campus alumna Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, gives tenants, local governments and housing nonprofits priority over corporations in buying foreclosed homes at auction.
According to Berkeley Tenants Union Secretary Matthew Lewis, the measure would prevent a repeat of the 2008 housing crisis, when corporations bought up foreclosed homes in the wake of the Great Recession. Lewis added, however, that he believes the bill falls short by failing to tax those corporations and provide tenants with the funds to buy the now-available property.
Lewis added that he believes none of the bills signed would bring about “systematic change” or address high rent, the core challenge facing California tenants. The 1995 Costa Hawkins Act gave rise to this issue, Lewis added, by banning rent control on many categories of homes as well as prohibiting vacancy control, which would keep landlords from raising rent to market rate when a tenant leaves the unit.
The latter provision is “particularly devastating” to Berkeley, Lewis said, due to a high population of students with frequent move-ins and move-outs.
Lewis added that a lack of vacancy control encourages landlords to keep units deliberately empty, as they can make more money from tenants by waiting for market rent to rise. Skinner’s bill would partially disincentivize this practice, Lewis said, by increasing the daily fine on owners who fail to maintain their vacant properties.
“(SB 1079, SB 1157 and SB 1190 are) better to have than not to have,” Lewis said. “But it’s not going to get to the root of the problem.”