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Here's How East Bay Assembly Candidates Jovanka Beckles and Buffy Wicks Differ on Housing Issues

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Richmond Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles (left) and political strategist Buffy Wicks will both vie for the seat in Assembly District 15 in the November general election. (From their campaign websites)

With rents, home prices and homelessness on the rise around the East Bay, it's no surprise that housing has emerged as a top issue in the local race for state Assembly.

Buffy Wicks and Jovanka Beckles, who are competing to represent California's 15th Assembly District, laid out different visions of the housing issues facing the East Bay and California, and how to solve them, in interviews with KQED News this week.

To begin with, the two Democrats hoping to represent Richmond, Berkeley and parts of Oakland in the state Legislature don't agree on what lawmakers need to prioritize.

"I don't think that we have a housing crisis," said Beckles, a member of the Richmond City Council. "I think that we have an affordable housing crisis."

Construction of homes, Beckles argues, should be focused on affordable units, not new market-rate housing.


"If we look around, San Francisco is building lots of new housing, Oakland the same thing, Berkeley the same thing," she added. "But those units are way out of what's affordable for ordinary people living here."

Wicks, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, said the state needs development at all income levels.

"We have a housing crisis," she said. "I think we need an all-of-the-above approach in terms of solutions."

Wicks points to the fact that homebuilding in California, specifically in coastal regions, has not kept up with job and population growth.

Data from communities within AD 15 show that most cities in the district are not meeting their own benchmarks for approving new housing.

Only El Cerrito is on pace to meet its state-required goal of approving new units for very-low-income residents, defined as below 50 percent of area median income. The goals are set through the Regional Housing Need Allocation, which currently maps out development from 2015 through 2023.

And while nearly every city in the district has failed to approve more low-income housing, Richmond, San Pablo,and Pinole are behind on their approval of units covering all income levels, according to the latest progress reports submitted to the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

A study from CALmatters found that from 2010 to 2016, Richmond ranked ninth in the state in the ratio of new residents to new housing permits.

In the primary, the legislative debate over one controversial proposal -- Senate Bill 827, and its plan to require more dense development around transit stops -- trickled into the AD 15 race.

Neither Wicks or Beckles gave their full backing to the failed bill, but with the idea likely to resurface in the future, Wicks appeared more supportive of increasing state control over local zoning around transit.

"In and around those corridors, we should be making it easier to build homes and more dense, walkable neighborhoods," Wicks said.

Beckles said she's committed to local control on housing issues.

"I really think that cities need to be able to have more control in terms of building, because they know best," Beckles said.

Both candidates emphasized the importance of protecting and preserving existing housing stock, but are divided on the most controversial rental proposal: Proposition 10.

That statewide ballot measure would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, allowing cities to expand rent control laws.

Beckles has wholeheartedly embraced the measure, and is aiming to tie her campaign closely to the Yes on 10 effort.

"We need to repeal Costa-Hawkins so that people can actually afford a place to live," Beckles said. "Folks' income isn't increasing and yet rents are going up."

Wicks argues that a full repeal of Costa-Hawkins could slow down the construction of new units.

"I don't want there to be unintended consequences of this actually exacerbating our crisis," Wicks said, while acknowledging that "for many people rent control is the only thing that is separating them from being in a home or being displaced."

Asked repeatedly for her position on Proposition 10, Wicks responded only with "we'll see what the voters decide in November."

Wicks said she would rather see reforms to the law, including having units age into rent control on a rolling basis, something the city of Berkeley is considering if Proposition 10 passes.

Oakland and Richmond are the other two cities in the district with rent control laws already on the books.

The way that Richmond's ordinance is written, Proposition 10's passage could trigger a larger expansion of rent control.

"In Richmond it means that all of our units would be under the protection of rent control," Beckles said. "That's the beauty of the proposition: Cities know what's best for their residents."

With nearly eight in 10 Bay Area residents calling housing affordability a 'big problem,' the way that Wicks and Beckles present themselves as best suited to address the issue in the state Legislature could go a long way toward determining November's winner.

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