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Senate Bill 35 will help create affordable homes for vulnerable populations

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A construction crew works on affordable housing units and public park space near Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco in May. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Everyone knows California is facing a housing affordability crisis. In fact, recent local polling shows Bay Area residents identify housing as our region’s No. 1 challenge. There are a number of important steps our state needs to take to address this, and we must insist that each and every community has a role to play.

That is why we are supporting Senate Bill 35, authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, which will streamline and expedite the approval of housing — including affordable housing — in cities that are not meeting their housing goals.

Members of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH) build the housing that lower-income people live in and that is essential to creating and sustaining inclusive and integrated neighborhoods and communities. To do this work, they need both certainty and predictability in the local approval process and adequate state funding for affordable housing to have the confidence to acquire sites and move forward with extensive pre-development planning.

It has been NPH’s long-held view that, if we are to address our ongoing crisis, every city in the Bay Area, including our suburban cities, must do their fair share and allow affordable homes to be built. Local opposition to affordable housing development has been a long-standing concern of our members and predates the more recent efforts by Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature to tackle it.

Knowing our historic position on this issue, Sen. Wiener convened meetings with us early in the year about SB 35, took our input and made amendments as we requested. In fact, we won amendments that other local equity advocates had also prioritized.

We made the decision to engage with our local senator and influence the legislation and have worked diligently to get the best provisions possible to facilitate affordable housing production and overcome neighborhood opposition while protecting the lowest-income residents from displacement and other adverse consequences.

Under SB 35 streamlined housing approvals, local planning and zoning are respected and actually made more important as opponents are not provided with multiple opportunities to kill projects or cause inordinate delays by demanding ever-changing requirements and conditions on a one-off basis during the approval process. This predictability is critical for the successful development of affordable housing.

Affordable housing developers are particularly vulnerable to delays because they operate under such tight funding constraints and timelines. Even a nine-month delay due to an appeal can put a project in financial jeopardy and potentially at risk of never being built at all. The State’s 2014 Affordable Housing Cost Study found that “projects with 4 or more community hearings were on average 5 percent more expensive to complete.”

Under SB 35, communities are protected because development must be consistent with existing zoning, density, design standards and other locally adopted, objective and consistent ministerial policies and required public benefits.

In addition, market-rate development is strictly “metered” and only receives streamlining until the number of units called for in the Regional Housing Needs Allocation is met.

No demolition is allowed for rent-restricted or rent-controlled units or any housing that has been occupied by tenants in the past 10 years. Also, streamlined entitlements for market-rate development expire after three years while streamlined entitlements for 100 percent affordable projects don’t expire.

Local inclusionary housing requirements still apply and, for those jurisdictions that have no adopted ordinance, streamlined market-rate developments must include at least 10 percent of the units as affordable with at least 5 percent for households below 50 percent of the area median income. These provisions were key priorities for NPH and represent a major expansion of inclusionary housing in most parts of the state that do not currently have such local ordinances.

Between 2010 and 2016, the Bay Area added 500,000 jobs but only 50,000 homes, and the jobs-housing gap and affordability problems continue to grow apace.

NPH strongly supports SB 35 because it will increase our members’ ability to help close this gap by efficiently providing safe, decent, attractive and affordable homes for our local low-wage workers and the most vulnerable among us living in precarious housing situations.

Michael Lane is policy director for the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California.

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