A Year of Historic Investment and Legislative Bottleneck
At the start of 2021 and the new legislative year, state leaders continued to wrestle with unprecedented challenges affecting communities across the state. As of January 2021, 2.7 million Californians had contracted COVID-19 and thousands of Californians were out of work as the unemployment rate had more than doubled compared to January 2020. Consequently, an increasing number of individuals and families with low incomes struggled to stay housed. At this time, California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report highlighting that the high cost of housing had become a major contributor to housing insecurity and homelessness. The report encouraged state leaders to set goals, establish oversight mechanisms and consider revenue sources that may provide for one-time or ongoing funding for homelessness programs. The California State Legislature responded by providing a record number of competing solutions to our state’s homelessness and affordable housing challenges. Legislators also faced logistical constraints imposed by COVID-19 and working remotely which slowed progress during the year. These challenges and differing approaches helped to create a year in which legislative solutions were reduced.
In March 2021, as the culmination of a years-long effort with California Housing Partnership, Residents United Network (RUN), affordable housing and homelessness partners, and multi-sector allies, we officially launched the California Roadmap Home 2030 (Roadmap Home). The Roadmap Home is a comprehensive, racial-equity centered, and evidence-based framework of over 57 policies, which if fully enacted by 2030, would end homelessness and create stable and affordable homes for all Californians. Housing California, along with our partners, sponsored and championed 12 Roadmap policy priorities for 2021. We unveiled the Roadmap Home framework on March 25 at a virtual press conference featuring Assemblymember David Chiu; Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency Secretary Lourdes Castro Ramírez; and allies, advocates, and supporters throughout California. Roadmap Home represents the priorities and commitments of more than 40 multi-sector partners with a proven record of creating affordable housing, fighting homelessness and advancing tenants’ rights, all accomplished through a racial justice lens–and the policies within the Roadmap Home reflect the broader housing justice and affordable housing movement.
A Historic Budget Win
In the spring, California recognized a budget surplus and saw an opportunity to meet the scale of need. During this time, Housing California advocated aggressively for robust investments that aligned with Roadmap Home’s scale and scope. Ultimately, the 2020-2021 California State Budget, signed in June 2021 by Governor Newsom, contained a never-before-seen investment of over $12 billion in solving homelessness and providing affordable housing resources. This substantial funding and the budget surplus inspired legislators to produce and advance proposals that sought to augment key programs critical to addressing homelessness and housing insecurity. As a result, we saw significant Roadmap Home policy priorities enacted through the budget, due in part to the consistent advocacy of Housing California, RUN, and our housing and homelessness advocacy partners, leading up to the release of the state budget.
Most notable is California’s first-ever multi year commitment of resources to address homelessness, with the intention for on-going support. An ongoing revenue source for local homelessness services and housing was one of Roadmap Home’s 2021 policy priorities, which Assemblywoman Luz Rivas and the 300-plus members of the Bring California Home (BCH) coalition, co-led by Housing California, championed through AB 71. While the legislation was ultimately held as a two-year bill, the heroic efforts of Assemblywoman Rivas and Bring California Home helped lay the foundation for the final budget to commit $2 billion over the next two years for local homelessness resources. Our focus will be on ensuring this commitment is funded through future appropriations. In addition, the budget includes particular emphasis on ending family homelessness through investing in essential programs at the Department of Social Services, and an additional investment of $2.75 billion over two years to augment the successful Homekey program.
Governor Newsom and legislative champions also made significant investments in the production and preservation of affordable housing through the state budget. The budget also provides $1.75 billion for backlogged affordable housing developments and $500 million for foreclosure intervention. Due to the ongoing advocacy of Housing California, California Housing Partnership, California Housing Consortium, and other key partners, California’s leaders again renewed their commitment to expanding the state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) by $500 million. You can learn more about the 2020-2021 State Budget by reading Housing California’s Final Budget Summary here.
Legislative Challenges and Small Victories
While 2021 saw momentous new and continued investments in affordable housing and homelessness, there was less progress made through legislation. The Legislature and Governor Newsom faced unprecedented and numerous challenges, and California’s leaders were able to coalesce around many successful responses. Yet, legislation to address homelessness and affordable housing did not go far enough to meet the scale of housing needs in California.
Housing legislation snapshot
Housing California sponsored six bills, supported 26 bills, and opposed 13 bills in the 2021 legislative cycle. At the end of the legislative session, Governor Newsom signed 31 bills focused on housing production and accountability measures to affirmatively further fair housing. Another 7 bills signed by the Governor combat homelessness, including Housing California’s sponsored bill, AB 816 (Chiu) as well as SJR 6 (Wiener).
National Housing Trust Fund
Housing California’s sponsored bill, AB 816 (Chiu) prioritized resources our state receives from the federal government in a program called the national Housing Trust Fund. This program, which receives over $100 million each year and will soon be receiving more through this legislation along with recent federal investments, will have a meaningful impact on the development of housing for people experiencing homelessness.
Several bills that Housing California supported, and that were signed into law, dealt with making fixes and improvements to statewide and local systems. For example, AB 1043 (Bryan) will create a new housing income category, named Acutely Low Income, which would be defined as 15% of AMI and below, and AB 362 (Quirk-Silva) will establish and improve safety standards for homeless shelters. Additionally, AB 1220 (Rivas) will rename the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council to the California Interagency Council on Homelessness and ensure that shelters throughout California comply with the evidence-based Housing First model.
Three other bills supported by Housing California would increase accountability and enforcement of land use laws and practices. AB 1304 (Santiago) creates more accountability by closing major loopholes that have allowed cities to ignore fair housing needs and regulations, and strengthen fair housing implementation across the state. Similarly, AB 721 (Bloom) and AB 215 (Chiu) will ensure cities dismantle known racial segregation patterns by nullifying private restrictive covenants on properties slated for affordable housing development, and strengthening housing element requirements, respectively.
Improved services and supports through data
Other critical Housing California support bills that were signed include legislation to improve systems that identify and collect much-needed data on those most in need of housing and services like AB 27 (Rivas) which creates three pilot technical assistance centers to identify youth experiencing homelessness and AB 977 (Gabriel) which requires the submission of data on people served in its local Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). Temporary housing will also see improvements as AB 362 (Quirk-Silva) establishes shelter safety standards by limiting state funding based on habitability violations and ensuring protections for those experiencing homelessness remain a priority.
Overall, the affordable housing bills that did pass relied heavily on the market to resolve our state’s housing challenge. Even with eased regulations, the market is unlikely to help the most severely rent-burdened Californians, who are disproportionately Black and brown families. Housing that is affordable to those with the lowest incomes needs to be heavily subsidized in order to even be built and operated, and the market has never provided enough healthy and stable housing that is affordable to low-income people.
Bills that Failed to Pass
The set of bills that passed this year still fell short of the bold legislative agenda needed to provide every Californian a stable and affordable place to call home. Bills that aligned with the Roadmap Home and failed to pass would have reformed zoning laws to incentivize production of more affordable housing like AB 115 (Bloom) would have provided nonprofit developers with the resources to grow California’s affordable housing stock with SB 5 (Atkins) and AB 411 (Irwin), and have enabled community organizations to prevent displacement and help low-income Californians remain in their homes through AB 1375 (Bloom). Ultimately, a cacophony of competing interests prevented the Legislature from coalescing around these game-changing solutions. Converted to two year bills, these bills can be acted upon in January 2022. Aside from affordable development, Housing California sponsored AB 328 (Chiu) which would have directed savings from the closure of State prisons to fund housing and services for formerly incarcerated people experiencing homelessness. In continued collaboration with partners like Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) and criminal justice reform organizations, we will work to get AB 328 passed and funded in 2022.
Besides homelessness and housing production bills that didn’t make the cut this year, Housing California had two additional support bills vetoed by Governor Newsom, AB 1487 (Gabriel) which would have created a “Homeless Prevention Fund” and provided Californians at-risk of eviction with access to civil legal aid services, and AB 369 (Kamlager) which would have reimbursed street care providers aiding unhoused people.
- AB 816 (Chiu) requires the Department of Housing and Community Development to prioritize the national Housing Trust Fund resources to produce housing for people experiencing homelessness.
- SJR 6 (Weiner) is a Joint Resolution expressing support for the federal Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, which seeks to lower the amount of bond financing required for an affordable housing developer to qualify for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, thus increasing affordable housing development opportunities.
Held as 2-year bills
- AB 71 (Rivas) would create an on-going funding allocation for homelessness.
- AB 328 (Chiu) would provide funding for reentry services and housing programs.
- AB 1375 (Bloom) would remove barriers to acquisition and rehabilitation of private market housing that is more affordable to low-income residents.
- SB 490 (Caballero) would create a technical assistance program to provide capacity and expertise to local governments to engage in the acquisition, rehabilitation, and preservation (acq-rehab) of unsubsidized affordable housing.
- AB 27 (Rivas) will create three technical assistance centers within county offices of education to pilot a model standardized process for identifying homeless students and connecting them to services.
- AB 118 (Kamlager) will establish the C.R.I.S.E.S. grant pilot program to invest in and scale community-based alternatives to policing. Housing California supported a similar bill, AB 2054 (Kamlager), last year.
- AB 215 (Chiu) will strengthen housing element public participation requirements and add a number of laws, including AB 686 (affirmatively furthering fair housing) and AB 2162 (by right approval for permanent supportive housing) to HCD’s AB 72 enforcement authority, which allows the department to revoke housing element compliance for jurisdictions that violate other housing-related laws.
- AB 362 (Quirk-Silva) will establish habitability standards for shelters and prohibit shelters with habitability violations from accessing state and federal funds.
- AB 721 (Bloom) makes private restrictive covenants limiting the number of people or units, or size of a property, unenforceable against affordable housing developments. Private restrictive covenants historically were used to discriminate against people of color and remain a barrier to the development of affordable housing.
- AB 977 (Gabriel) require, beginning January 1, 2023, that a grantee or entity operating in many state homelessness programs as a condition of receiving state funds, to enter data elements, as defined by HUD’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Data Standards, on the individuals and families it serves into its local Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). The bill would apply the data entry requirements to all new state homelessness programs that commence on or after July 1, 2021. The bill would require the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council to provide technical assistance and guidance to any grantee or entity that operates a program subject to the bill, if the grantee or entity does not already collect and enter into the local Homeless Management Information System the data elements required.
- AB 1043 (Bryan) establishes a new acutely low-income category, defined as at or below 15% of area median income (AMI).
- AB 1220 (Rivas) makes changes to the structure of the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council and eliminates the exemption for emergency shelter from housing first law (SB 1380, 2016 Mitchell).
- AB 1304 (Santiago) clarifies various housing element requirements to ensure that cities and counties are meaningfully complying with their legal duty to affirmatively further fair housing (AFFH), which requires public entities to take active steps to dismantle segregation, foster inclusive communities, create equal housing opportunities, address disinvestment in low-income neighborhoods, and protect residents from displacement.
- SB 629 (Roth) will expand eligibility for reduced cost of identification cards and increased re-entry population access to IDs. Assembly amendments would require Dept. of Corrections and Rehab to manage the process between inmates and other agencies, repeal existing law that makes ineligible those with unpaid fees; and authorize DMV to issue licences in lieu of ID cards.
Held as 2-year bills
- AB 115 (Bloom) would allow housing in commercial zones if 20% of the units are available for low-income households.
- AB 258 (Villapudua) requires all state housing and homelessness programs that fund interim housing to follow low barrier, housing first practices.
- AB 771 (Bennett) would increase drivers license access for those experiencing homelessness.
- AB 411 (Irwin) would authorize the issuing of $600 million in bonds to provide additional funding for provisions within the Veterans Housing and Homelessness Prevention Bond Act of 2022.
- AB 500 (Ward) would require local governments in the Coastal Zone to create streamlining processes for: accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and junior accessory dwelling units (JADUs), developments that are either 100% affordable to lower-income households or developments that designate at least 25% of the units for supportive housing, and low-barrier navigation centers.
- AB 1017 (Quirk-Silva) would require local governments to complete and report an inventory count and location of public restrooms available.
- AB 1202 (Cervantes) would create emergency services centers planning for those experiencing homelessness.
- AB 1206 (Bennett) would grant the welfare exemption to nonprofit, limited equity housing cooperatives (LEHC). The California Constitution exempts property used for charitable and nonprofit uses from property taxes, including affordable housing.
- AB 1492 (Bloom) would designate areas in the state as high-opportunity areas and sensitive communities where lower incomes households are at risk of displacement.
- SB 17 (Pan) would establish a state racial equity framework.
- SB 57 (Wiener) would allow the approval of overdose protection programs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland.
- SB 344 (Hertzberg) would provide homeless shelters with grants for the provision of food and basic veterinary services for pets owned by people experiencing homelessness.
- SB 678 (Rubio) would require the Homelessness Coordinating and Financing Council to set goals aimed at preventing and ending homelessness among unaccompanied women and gather data related to population.
Looking Forward to 2022
To forge a viable path toward real progress, state leadership must accept that there is no silver bullet. Issues like homelessness and housing affordability are complex and require a comprehensive and aligned approach that leads with bold equity-centered and people-focused policy solutions like those found in Roadmap Home 2030. Making the Roadmap Home’s vision into reality requires collective action, political will, and a keen focus on evidence-based housing policy to produce benefits that will serve those that are most impacted by a broken housing system. We are exploring ways to collaborate further with our RUN leaders with lived experience and with all of our partners to advance our collective legislative and budgetary policies.We are also hopeful that federal funding through the Build Back Better Act will inspire state leaders to take bolder steps to combat homelessness and produce the affordable housing to meet the scale of need in the coming year.
Building upon the successes of 2021, Housing California is working with the Legislature and Governor Newsom to further advance budgetary and legislative policies with the vision of ensuring every Californian has an affordable, healthy and stable home in a thriving, sustainable community.