Push to Create a Regional Housing Agency for the Bay Area

A construction worker builds a home in Petaluma in March 2017. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

State lawmakers are proposing to create a housing agency for the San Francisco Bay Area, with the ability to impose regional taxes to fund development, local planning and tenant assistance.

The legislation, set to be unveiled on Thursday, would create a new agency to address a problem felt by residents in all of the region's nine counties. Assembly Bill 1487 is the cornerstone of a controversial regional housing agenda being pursued at the state Capitol.

"It is central to what we're trying to do with a regional approach," said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, who authored the bill.

The idea for the regional entity — dubbed the Housing Alliance for the Bay Area (HABA) — was birthed from CASA, a committee of elected officials, developers and affordable housing advocates who drew up a set of ideas to ease the housing affordability crisis in the Bay Area.

The ideas included emergency rent and legal assistance to tenants facing eviction, a regional rent cap, streamlined approval for more developments and minimum zoning standards for housing around transit stops. Many of those ideas have already been introduced in the state Legislature.

The committee also drafted a price tag for their list of solutions: $2.5 billion annually over the next 15 years.

AB 1487 would give state authority to HABA to raise up to $1.5 billion through ballot measures voted on in all nine counties.

"[It] would allow for funding to be raised regionally and spent regionally," Chiu said. "It would allow tenants from across the region to access services, even if their city doesn't have tenant services available. It would allow cities across the region to get access to technical assistance that they may not already have."

The entity would not have any land use authority, and while it could purchase land for affordable housing, it would not be able to take property through eminent domain.

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AB 1487 proposes that the governing body be split between local mayors, council members and supervisors who serve on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), along with appointees of the governor.

Even some supporters of CASA have argued against the creation of a new housing government, particularly one that could include unelected appointees.

"I don’t personally think having a separate agency is necessary, given that we have ABAG and MTC, which is made up of elected representatives from throughout the region," said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin in January, when ABAG reviewed the regional housing ideas. "I think that’s a role that we can play as the regional planning entity."

It would be up to the Alliance to determine what tax proposals end up on the ballot.

California's Housing Crisis
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The CASA Compact suggested a suite of ideas, including a regionwide parcel tax on property owners, a new fee on developers, increased taxes on businesses, a regionwide sales tax increase and direct contributions from local governments.

Supporters say the regional approach to taxes would ease the burden on cities that currently have to go to the ballot individually to raise funds for housing.

They point to measures to fund affordable housing in San Jose and Santa Rosa that failed in the November election.

HABA's plans for spending the tax money -- sending cash and legal assistance to tenants, buying properties to build affordable units, and paying for planners to help cities prepare for development -- could be particularly helpful to cities and towns that lack the resources to take on those initiatives now.

"Some jurisdictions have a lot of staff and revenue but there's a wide range within the region," said Amie Fishman, executive director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California. "So having a regional strategy will also help to generate the local solutions that are needed."

A separate bill in the state Legislature could make it easier to pass a regional housing tax.

Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1 would lower the threshold needed to pass a sales tax or parcel tax from two-thirds to 55 percent, if the funds are used for infrastructure or affordable housing.

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