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California Law Prioritizes People Over Corporate Home-Buyers

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A 'protect Oakland renters sign in the window of an apartment on Wednseday, April 1, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Tenants, affordable housing groups and local governments will get the first chance to buy foreclosed homes under a measure approved Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The bill, Senate Bill 1079 is designed to keep corporations from snapping up homes and letting some fall into disrepair as they did during the Great Recession. The issue drew national attention a year ago Moms 4 Housing moved into a vacant, corporate-owned house in West Oakland.

It was among 15 bills Newsom signed into law as renters and home-buyers again struggle during mass layoffs prompted by the pandemic. The governor said the measures “will directly lead to more affordable opportunities for renters and homeowners.”

The law bars sellers of foreclosed homes from bundling them at auction for sale to a single buyer. In addition, it will allow tenants, families, local governments, affordable housing nonprofits and community land trusts 45 days to beat the best auction bid to buy the property.

Owners of poorly maintained properties can be fined as much as $2,000 a day under the bill.

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Democratic Sen. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley said her measure gives people who want to live in a house a fair shot at buying it. She said the measure that takes effect Jan. 1 sends the message that “California homes are not yours to gobble up; we won’t tolerate another corporate takeover of housing.”

Newsom also signed bills increasing subsidies for dense, affordable housing projects; allowing school districts to use low-income housing tax credits to build affordable housing for teachers and school employees on district-owned land; and exempting bicycle, pedestrian, light rail and bus rapid transit projects from California’s strict environmental reviews.

Another bill expands a law that allows crime victims to break their leases without penalty.

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The law had applied only to victims of domestic violence, stalking, elder abuse or human trafficking. The expansion adds crimes that result in injury or death and bars landlords from refusing to rent to tenants who have taken advantage of the law. He also approved a separate bill allowing victims of violent crime and immediate family members of homicide victims to take unpaid leave from work.

He vetoed two bills, one that would have created an Office to End Homelessness within his administration and the other that would have created a right to safe, decent and affordable housing.

Newsom said he already has made housing and homelessness a priority, and the “laudable goal” of making housing a right could have cost more than $10 billion a year.

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