#CAHOUSING: A conversation with Asm. Buffy Wicks
CAPITOL WEEKLY PODCAST: This Special Episode of the Capitol Weekly Podcast was recorded live at Capitol Weekly’s Conference on Housing, which was held in Sacramento at the California Endowment Conference Center on Thursday, March 9, 2023.
This is the Keynote: Asm. Buffy Wicks in conversation with Hannah Wiley of the Los Angeles Times
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
HANNAH WILEY: Alright, well, thank you all for being here. Thank you, Assemblymember Wicks. I’m excited to have a conversation as always about housing in California. I’d like to start with: there have been a number of bills introduced this year already, a number of high-profile ones. Church housing is back; an extension or a permanent extension of SB 35. We have a bill to convert office buildings to housing; some more tenant protections coming up, but as the chair of the committee that will oversee many of these bills, what are your priorities, and what are your realistic priorities?
ASM. WICKS: Sure, good question. Thanks for having me. Thanks everyone for being here. When I got my chairmanship about, I don’t know, maybe a year and a half ago, there was two main focuses that I was focused on, and I think those continue to be my focus, one is streamlining and make it easier to build housing here in California. We know that we need about 3.5 million homes in the state, we know we’ve made it very difficult, we know that we’ve made a conscientious policy choices decades ago that have led us to the place where we are today, and so streamlining becomes really important.
Obviously, I did some of this work last year and in years prior, but how that will take shape this year for me is really helping Scott Wiener on his bills, SB 423, SB 4 and any other kind of streamlining bills that come through my committee. But those two being, in my opinion, some of the most important bills that we’re gonna be doing now. We’ve seen a lot of success from SB 35, particularly on the affordable housing side, and I’m happy to talk more about all of that…. I’ll save it, you may be asking about that, but we also know that the bill needs fixes, and also we wanna make sure that we take out the sunset so that it can continue to be an important bill that helps helps us to streamline for the housing that we need. So I’m putting a lot of my own sort of time and energy into helping Scott past his bills, because I think it’s a really important critical piece of the infrastructure to build the necessary housing supply that we need. So that’s one major priority for me.
The second one, and this is, you know, I don’t know that I’m gonna be able to tackle this just this year. You asked the word – ‘realistic’ I think is what you said – this may be a two-year, maybe a four-year endeavor… but one of the things that I think we absolutely need, and I think everyone kind of knows, it’s a little bit of the elephant in the room, is: We need, desperately need, ongoing funding for affordable housing. And we don’t fund housing the way that we need to in the state, and this crisis has metastasized and is something that is, I think bigger than any of us had imagined. At any given night, we have 174,000 plus or minus folks who don’t have a roof over their head, we have the highest rate of unsheltered living on the streets in the country, we have… I have students at Cal sleeping in their cars. I represent Berkeley. I don’t have to tell you the magnitude of the crisis. Every time I go home to my district or my colleagues do, it’s the number one thing we get asked about. We have growing encampments at every freeway on ramp and off-ramp, and it’s simply not acceptable.
And so the state hasn’t… up until about six or seven years ago, the state hadn’t really invested in that the way that it should be. I wanna give enormous credit to the Governor for investing at the tune of about 5 billion a year for multiple, consecutive years into this issue, and funding for affordable housing. But the truth of the matter is you talk to a lot of folks in the space, we need a 100 plus billion a year… sorry, not a year. Can you imagine that? [Laughter] 100 plus billion over a sustained period of time – a decade, two decades, to really tackle the problem the way that we need to.
And that is funds for producing affordable housing. It’s funds for rental assistance. It’s funds for… you know, wrap around services for certain folks who need that. We really have to invest, and so we don’t have right now in the budget really sustained, ongoing funding the way that we need to. And so that is something that I’m committed to working on. It’s not an easy solution or we would have done it. Because in every way you look… Okay, so does that mean you’re doing a set aside of the current budget? Well look at the current budget, we’re facing… It depends who you ask…. A 25 billion deficit. Yeah, is it a tax increase? Also hard to do in light of a looming recession and an inflationary period. So we’re looking at different mechanisms, what could this be?.. What does this look like? But what I do know for sure is that we need the funds, and so for me, this year is focused on 423, SB 4, other bills of that nature, focused on the affordable housing piece.
We’re also working very closely with Laura Friedman and her team. And I think this is also another important part, because often the transportation, housing conversations have been separate, and it’s really important that they’re taken together. You know, obviously I did [AB] 2011 last year. We’ll talk more about that, but that was all around the idea of re-imagining our grand Boulevards. Well, if we build more density in these areas, which these are already have some building on them, usually offices parking lots on strip malls. If we’re building on that footprint and we’re building a lot more housing, how are those folks getting from point A to point B? And so investing the transportation resources critically into the infill housing as opposed to building freeways as far as the eye can see, I think is the type of investment we should be doing, ’cause that also helps us reach our climate change goals.
So, supporting Laura in that effort to think about how we bring together the intersection of transportation funding, particularly because we have a lot of federal funds to support the housing, the infill housing that we’re looking to do. So those are some of the things that we’re working on, among many others that I’m focused on this year.
HW: And I wanna just dive right into SB 423, an extension, the permanent extension of SB 35. I’m sure many of us, all of us are familiar with that law here, but I wanna talk about some of the politics around it as well.
HW: And you know, let’s go back a year, let’s go back to AB 2011. There was a lot of opposition from the Trades, and the Carpenters signed on to the bill, so there’s this labor… There’s this labor dynamic around the legislation and, you’re gonna try again this year. But take me back to AB 2011, how did you actually get it across the finish line? What happened behind the scenes? If you could lift the hood for us all to understand those negotiations and then this year, what needs to happen again to realistically and possibly get SB 423 across the finish line? If that’s what you’re prioritizing…
BW: Yep. Great, I’ll dive right in. I knew you’re gonna ask that, Hannah. Let me start off with why we did 2011. We did 2011 because we have to build housing. We did 2011 because we have 174,000 homeless folks on our streets. We did 2011 because we have people leaving California because they can’t afford to live here. We did 2011 because we have nurses and teachers who in my district have to live two hours away and commute four hours a day to work in the communities in which they were raised.
“The Carpenters build more housing than any other union in the state. I defer to them on what they think the best labor standards are.”
That is not acceptable. So that is why we do things like 2011, and I know that that resulted in uncomfortable conversations with friends who we are generally aligned on. But this is why we’re here to do the work we do… is ’cause we have to solve problems. So, this is ultimately about solving problems. I think where… I think where your question’s going is sort of dive into the kind of labor politics of it, right?
So, first of all, if you look at the construction workforce that builds residential housing, it is largely un-unionized. If you talk to the Carpenter’s Union or others, there are many situations where they will call it a ‘crime scene,’ …and that’s not everywhere, but it’s certainly a lot of these places. You’re looking at a workforce that is largely Latino, many of whom are new immigrants. There’s a power dynamic that exists there, there’s exploitation that exists there. And so how do we create the best standards for these workers to ensure that they have good-paying, quality jobs, that they’re protected, that there is not stuff happening, which is pretty rampant, that they have the healthcare that they need, that we’re actually building the workforce that we need to build the housing that we need. And so, working closely with the Carpenters Union, the affordable housing developers, we created a framework.
The Carpenters build more housing than any other union in the state. I defer to them on what they think the best labor standards are. I don’t think that they’re going to want to be a part of labor standards that they think are bad for their workers. That’s antithetical to who they are as leaders and as people and as a union. So they put forth labor standards, they sat down very collaboratively, many, many conversations with the California housing consortium, which is the affordable housing developers, to figure out what would work from their perspective what could they adhere to? And 2011 was the only bill last year that brought together those two very diverse voices to bring about a framework that we thought could work. That was the sort of initial impetus of it, but it was really about solving a problem that we know we all need to tackle.
Now the Trades have are different set of opinions, they viewed skilled-and-trained, which is essentially ensuring that all the work done is done by Building Trades workers as the right path. I think the challenge with that… and I say this as who worked in the labor movement has a 100% voting record with a labor movement, worked very closely and continue to work very closely with labor… is we simply don’t have the workforce that can meet the need of what we have. So that becomes a barrier of building housing. And I think right now our goal is not to create barriers, it’s to create ease and ability to actually build the housing that we need, while protecting the workforce that we have.
So, there’s a difference of opinion on this between the Trades and the Carpenters, but I think most importantly, we have to get to a solution, and I think that’s where the prevailing wage component, which is what we put in the bill, along with the healthcare piece and the apprenticeship piece, and importantly, the wage theft protections, which, by the way, are the most impactful ways of protections in the country for our workers, leads us to a place where we can build that housing, which I think is important.
The other thing I’ll say with prevailing wage and the provisions that we have in 2011: It’s about protecting all workers. Skilled-and-trained protects those workers that fall into that category, but prevailing wage protects all workers, and it also allows for…If you have a floor, essentially, and you’re requiring your contractors to meet that floor, the 2011 provisions being that floor, your union and your non-union have to essentially pay the same rate. And the non-union workers can’t undercut the union contractors and thereby get the bid, and so it lifts up wages for everyone – and shouldn’t we want to lift up wages for everyone? So I view these as actually stronger labor protections. I think that’s what the Carpenters would say also, if you ask them. I think it levels the playing field, while still allowing us to build what we need to build. Now the politics of it, which is… I see you nodding.
HW: I will say the Building Trades would say that these aren’t strong enough protections and that there needs to be stronger labor rules and protections for the workers who are gonna be building the housing, and that these workers also need to be able to afford to live in the housing that they’re constructing. So with these differences of opinion, how do you get the Trades on board with the Carpenters, with the affordable housing groups, to come up with a consensus bill that’s gonna meaningfully produce housing in California for all?
“We’re done saying No. We are done saying no to housing in California.”
BW: Well, one, if you look at SB 35 as a real-life example in the field of what is used more… If you look at SB 35, you have an affordable housing provision that requires prevailing wage and you have a market rate provision that require skilled-and-trained, what is used more? It’s the affordable housing prevailing wage provision, like to the tune of times 100. And so we see it in real life that the skilled-and-trained provision is very difficult in many parts of the state. Not impossible in some places, but very difficult in many parts of the state. And so, I am not about creating barriers to build housing. That is what is driving me, the need to build the housing that we need. Now there’s also obviously the politics of all of this is, which is what I think you really want me to get to here, right?
When we put out 2011, we had the affordable housing developers, we had the Carpenters, but also look who else came on board: SEIU. These are workers who are service workers, they are lower income workers. Same with CSEA, the California Employees Association. Workers of color, they are some of the lower wage workers in the Union sectors that we have in the state, and they’re sitting there saying like, ‘we don’t have the luxury to debate between prevailing wage and skilled-and-trained where we’re sleeping in our cars.’ They need housing. And they need it now. There’s urgency around this.
So SEIU and CSEA came on board. It was an interesting coalition. It was like the Carpenters, SEIU, CSEA, AARP – because they’re seeing more seniors who are experiencing homelessness and housing and security. United Way, who are working directly with folks who need services, the Realtors, the Apartment Association, Greenlining Institute… we had such a diverse… faith-based organizations, environmental groups come on board to say It’s time to say Yes to housing. We’re done saying No. We are done saying no to housing in California.
And I, as the chair of the Housing Committee, I’m not going to, you know, preside over status quo and inertia. We’re done with that, and so we’re trying to find the coalition of the willing who’s gonna say it’s time to get on this train and build the housing that we need. And in 2011, it was a diverse coalition that did that. Now we’re having these same conversations. Now, with 423, and again, to me, the proof is in the pudding of what’s being utilized more: it’s the prevailing wage, which again, protects more workers, is the provision that’s being used more in SB 35. So let’s go with what’s working, let’s fix the things that aren’t working, so well. And let’s expand the labor protections by putting in prevailing wage, and let’s move forward and build the housing that we need to do and do so while also creating our union workforce and protecting those workers, ’cause they do need those protections desperately.
So we’ll have another round of these conversations, I’m confident this bill is going to make it to the governor’s desk.
HW: This year?
BW: That’s my goal. I’m sure it’s Scott Wiener’s goal too. We have to build the housing, it’s just so important, and it’s what our voters and our constituents expect of us. They don’t want us to come here and just to hear to special interest groups. They want us to come here and solve a problem. So, I’m confident we can do it, working really closely with Senator Weiner and with the coalition, many of whom of the coalition we had last year and others who we hopefully will come on board and help us get across the finish line.
“I applaud DOJ and the AG in bringing about this lawsuit, I applaud the governor in bringing about stricter enforcements.”
HW: I feel like we could spend a lot more time talking about this, but for sake of time, I want to give you a moment to respond to some of the breaking news this morning: that filed a story that the Department of Justice, Governor Newsom HCD, has filed a lawsuit against Huntington Beach, alleging that some of the actions that they’re taking, or considering, violate state housing laws. So I’m wondering if you can talk about how in recent years, HCD, DOJ, with these new enforcement tools that their fingertips have actually done something on the housing crisis, have they done anything?
BW: I think it’s been remarkable, the impact of enforcement and what it’s meant on our communities. And the cities… First of all, wanna say some cities have been great and … you know, up until I got redistricted Emeryville, redistricted out of my district, which is a bummer ‘cause I love Emeryville… they’ve been on the forefront of really working on how do they create enough housing. It depends on the city you’re in, and some aren’t great on building housing. And so that’s where the enforcement is really important.
We need the cities to actively participate in being, again, part of the coalition of the willing who wants to build the housing. And again, some of them have been great… Some of them haven’t been great. I applaud DOJ and the AG in bringing about this lawsuit, I applaud the governor in bringing about stricter enforcements. I think when you talk to folks in the know in the Governor’s office, their focus is enforcement.
We’ve done a lot of work at the legislative level to give them the tools to be able to say, ‘Okay, it’s time to do enforcement.’ I think that’s exactly what we’re saying, and you’re seeing cities who… some of whom don’t want to enforce, and they’re being sued. Like this is the classic example: my understanding of the lawsuit is they… they’re denying ADU permits. They’re denying SB 9 permits. That’s all state law. So, I think, I assume the AG feels pretty strongly about his lawsuit ’cause he’s hearing ‘state law,’ and I think it’s the right move because our cities have to participate. This isn’t someone else’s problem anymore, this is all of our problems and all of our cities and all of our communities have to decide that they’re going to be a part of the solution, otherwise there are consequences for that action.
One of the consequences that we are saying is the Builder’s Remedy… which is a law that was passed a long time ago that essentially says If cities are not adhering to their RHNA numbers in their housing element that the Builder’s Remedy allows developers to come in and get their permits approved quickly in these windows of time. Which I think has shown cities they have to participate. They have to take this seriously. So I think what has been prior to the paper tiger now really has teeth, and I think that’s important, and it’s really forcing our studies to come to the table and to be a part of the solution.
HW: And yet, many cities turn in housing elements and goals and plans that are out of compliance with state law. So how do you encourage more compliance or force more compliance when cities require many drafts…
BW: Yeah, and that’s what HCD’s doing right now, and I’m not gonna say that it’s this seamless, smooth, amazing process. I’m sure there are challenges along the way, and I think we’ve read about some of those, but the fact that there is the stronger enforcement, I think is really important. I think the cities are seeing that and realizing it.
And I also think just taking another step back, I think the politics of this issue on the ground with constituents has changed. I think you’ve seen this kind of growing sort of YIMBY movement over the past like six or so years really take shape to say, ‘You know what… Yes, in my backyard.’ Because we have these problems, you have younger people who are looking… You’re 25, 30 years old, and do you think you’re gonna buy a house anytime soon? If you ask an average 25-year-old when they think they’re gonna buy a house, their answer is, ‘never.’
HW: I’m going through that right now. I’m older than 25 but I feel like it’s gonna be never…
BW: That’s exactly right. And you talk to older folks who, their children want to raise their young family in the community in which they were raised, and the grandparents are like, ‘Yes, we wanna be near our grandkids,’ and guess what? They’re going somewhere else because they can’t afford to live here, so I think the politics of it have changed a lot where there is more of a demand, I think an understanding by the electorate we have to do this, this is really important.
“I think you will see some CEQA reform bills this year.”
I think that shift is also really important because then you have constituents who are saying, ‘Yes, build housing in our communities,’ and again, not everywhere, and you still get some push back, but that’s why the state law is so important. That’s why the enforcement work is so important.
HW: And let’s talk about another state law, CEQA. And let’s talk CEQA reform.
BW: And then we’ll talk Prop 13 and we’ll just hit all the third rails. [Laughter]
HW: I feel like for as long as I’ve been a reporter in California, I’ve been hearing murmurs of CEQA reform, and I often say, ‘great. I will write about it when there’s a bill that takes a look at CEQA, and how it is being used.’ So, critics of CEQA say that it’s often used to block housing unjustifiably; we have seen UC Berkeley trying to build student housing… [garbled] ruling against that project. So how much of the CEQA reform conversation this year is just that: murmuring conversation, and how much of it is meaningful? And there’s gonna be a move toward taking a look at the law.
BW: Yeah, I think you will see some CEQA reform bills this year. I think the situation in Berkeley has not served those who like CEQA ,especially trying to use it as a tool to block housing, has not served them well. Because I think that’s also really shifted the politics, because what has happened there is just absurd. I mean, CEQA is being weaponized to stop student housing…
Again, I started off this talk saying I have homeless students that go to UC Berkeley and… For a reason, right? Because some organizations, community or different organizations, have sued to stop the housing, which we desperately need, and so I do think you’re gonna see some CEQA reform bills. I’m working on a CEQA reform bill that’s pretty surgical in nature, focused on a small piece of it, but I do think we’re gonna have to have broader conversations around – and real honest conversations around – the need for CEQA reform. Again, which sometimes aren’t fun, because as a Democrat, who has friends with labor unions and environmental groups and everyone else, sometimes you have to have these tough conversations with friends. But that’s why we get paid the big bucks here in the legislature, is to do exactly just that. And I think we are gonna have to have some tough conversations, and reality around bringing forth a real substantive SEQA form. Personally, for me, I’m working in a small bill this year, but I do wanna do more expansive CEQA reform work this session, but maybe not this year, so we’re looking at some stuff next year.
The other thing I will say is, like if you look at 2011, or if you look at SB 35, these are really important streamlining bills for us that cover a large part of the state. Those bypass CEQA. And I know that that wasn’t discussed a lot last year in 2011, ’cause there was so much conversation around the labor politics of the bill, but if you meet the threshold of those labor provisions then you get to bypass SEQA, get ministerial approval. That’s one way to do a CEQA reform, it is just to say, if you meet all these provisions, you get to bypass CEQA and streamline and start building the housing. And so the bill goes into effect in July, it’s my hope that it starts to get picked up pretty quickly, but CEQA’s gonna be a non-issue, if developers use ab 2011 and they adhere to the certain standards around the labor provisions in the healthcare and all the other pieces. So that’s another way to tackle the CEQA, to create legislation that just essentially bypasses for in-field development. And when you’re talking about building on a footprint, the way CEQA is weaponized, in my opinion is, it’s terrible.
Now, if you’re talking about open spaces, those are places we wanna have a better understanding of how we protect those. I’m a believer, philosophically, in: we have to build 3.5 million homes. Let’s build infill, let’s invest in the public transportation we need to do there, let’s build up. Let’s build on our current footprint, as opposed to, let’s build out towards Nevada as far as the eye can see ,with tract homes and eight-lane freeways. That’s not the answer.
So again, these things are all connected, and I think CEQA serves a really important role around protecting things like those open spaces, but when you’re talking about infill development, to me is a different conversation.
HW: I wanna talk about homelessness for a moment, because it’s connected to the housing prices in California. Homelessness has increased 6% since 2020 in California. There was, of course, a thing called COVID that really exacerbated conditions in California, but the state has poured billions of dollars into homelessness. Why have we seen increases that we have seen, and what needs to be done to hold the state accountable? To hold the legislature accountable to those billions going out the door?
BW: Yeah, it’s pretty simple: We don’t have enough housing in the state. That’s what underlies a lot of this problem, we don’t have enough housing. So what you see happening is you have a lot of money going in, you have outreach workers, you have non-profit organizations, providers and others who are doing outreach, getting folks into tuff shed communities or temporary shelters or some time, and then when it’s time to cycle out of that… Where are they going? There’s nowhere to go. There’s no bed, there’s no place for them to go. There’s no place for them to live. And so that’s why the building of affordable housing is so important, and if you…
“I think we can solve it…. we’ve sent people to the Moon, we can solve homelessness in California.”
The data around homelessness is fascinating: the vast majority of folks experiencing homelessness are experiencing it because they can’t afford a place to live. That is the problem. The rent is too damn high, as they say. And so if we have the supply that we need, then that is gonna help impact the issue significantly. Now, having said that, there are folks who are gonna need wrap-around services, who need significant investments… right? And I think that’s the sort of visible component of homelessness that we see when folks see it on the streets. The vast majority of folks, they don’t need that type of really intensive wrap-around services, but what they need is that stable housing with housing security, which is why I’m so focused on funding for affordable housing. And I think with that is money for production of housing, money for rental assistance. Rental assistanceI think is also really important because you save so much regardless of if you think it’s a moral issue that we have, folks on the streets, which I do, but not everyone does. Fiscally, if you actually invest in rental assistance, if someone like, loses a job, he needs a 1000 bucks a month for a couple of months to keep themself off the streets, that is a much better return on investment than then falling into homelessness, experiencing homelessness, developing some kind of addiction or mental health issue, dealing with a criminal justice system, dealing with needing healthcare and all the other things that go on on the back end, so investing on this in the front end is critical.
I absolutely agree we need accountability, and I think the accountability piece is really important because I know, or I believe that we’re gonna have to go back to the voters and say, ‘We need more resources.’ And if we’re gonna do that, they’re gonna wanna know that we spend their money wisely, that they’re seeing an ROI on that investment, they want a return on the investment, and that’s why last week… I think it was last week, I had a six-hour hearing with the chair of our Government Accountability Committee, Human Resources and our Health Committee around, where’s all this money going? I will say, I think the money that’s gone there, it’s been great, but it’s the tip of the iceberg, we have to invest more, and we have shovel-ready projects ready to go, and there’s no funding for it. Right? So we know that we need an increase in funding. If we can do the streamlining, and we can get the funding going, I actually believe wholeheartedly that we can solve the homelessness crisis in the state of California.
That might sound crazy. I don’t think it’s gonna happen overnight, but I think if we give ourselves… if we do a real investment and we do the streamlining stuff we need to do… and do a real investment, I think we can solve this problem in 10 years. And that is a long time for someone who’s on the street, but if we can start ticking away at it and building the housing that we need to do and forcing the communities to ensure that they’re allowing for the building to take place and we invest in the way I need to… I think we can solve it. And I said this. The hearing last week, which is of course the thing that press picked up on, I said, ‘we’ve sent people to the Moon, we can solve homelessness in California.’ It’s true. I do actually believe we can do this.
HW: before we move on to the audience questions… I have so many other housing questions, of course, but one thing that I did wanna get to kind of a fun question here is, have you endorsed anybody in the senate race? To replace the center, Dianne Feinstein?
BW: I have actually endorsed. I did a double endorsement of Congresswoman Lee and Congresswoman Katie Porter, both of whom [garbled].
HW: Tell me a little bit about that double endorsement?
BW: Sure. Congresswoman Lee is an icon. She’s that ‘no’ vote on the war was, I think, very symbolic and significant. I think she’s been a leader, I think she’s a progressive leader. I think she’d make an amazing senator. She’s also my member of congress, and so I have a special relationship with her. And I think she’d be great. I’ve also known Katie Porter for a long time. I think she’s a fighter, she’s won in a tough district, so that kind of like fighting spirit, I think is gonna be really important. I think she’s good on a lot of issues that I care about as well, and so I think both of them would be just amazing leaders. I think we have an abundance of riches here in California in this race, but from, in my opinion, I think Katie and Barbara would be our strongest leaders, and I’d love to see either one of them in the Senate.
HW: Okay, well, thank you for this initial Q and A. I think we might have some questions from the audience possibly.
SIGRID BATHEN, CAPITOL WEEKLY: I’ve been covering mental health and related issues for many publications, including Capitol Weekly, and the issue of accountability that you’ve raised here…. there really is very little accountability for the spending ther’re spending streams coming from all over, and lack of data collection… What are you doing in the legislature to rectify that? Susan Eggman has a bill in the Senate which would create a bed registry, which seems a very minor thing that has not been done. The Care Act does require… more accountability than previous laws, so where do you think we are on the accountability factor?
BW: Well, I think exactly what you just said is the reason why we had our first oversight hearing on that last week, and that hearing was put together again, it was our Government Accountability Committee, Housing Human Resources and Health, all around this question around kind of the intersection of housing and mental health, which is often where the homelessness conversation lies. And I think it was probably the first time that those four committees had ever gotten together to do hearing. In that hearing, it was a six-hour hearing, and we had… The first panel was Secretary Ghaly and Secretary Castro Ramirez, talking about the inter-agency council, which was developed a couple of years ago, looking at how that… How are the agencies working together to make sure that they are actually coordinating their resources? We had actually scheduled that panel to be about 30 minutes, and it was two hours, because we had so many questions around, we’re investing these resources, and one of the main roles for the legislature is to hold the governor accountable and these funds… And I think it was very illuminating understanding how… Well, I’ll say this one, the state is newer into the idea around, ‘This is really our problem, now
It has been, I think, more seen as a county or a city issue for a long time, at least on the housing front, and so the idea that the state is more involved in trying to be part of the solution of the housing crisis, I think is a newer sort of phenomenon or… I think understanding. I think again, it’s in part because the politics have changed on it, where people are demanding it more. But I think that hearing is a step in the right direction, I think asking continued questions, I think we have to have a better understanding of the counties run a lot of the behavioral health resources… Right? Understanding where that money is going, what are the counties doing with it? The other challenge we have is often in many counties, the counties and the cities don’t get along. And so there becomes difficulty in terms of managing a lot of this stuff. So, you’re asking the right questions, and I think it’s incumbent upon us to figure out the right solutions and to bring about more accountability. Susan Eggman has done a tremendous job in this space, I think we’ll continue to do so, she’s… It’s a bummer we’re losing her because she’s been such a leader in this, and I think coming from her background as a social worker, as a… I think a really intuitive, unique understanding as a lawmaker as to where the disconnect happens. So I think all of that stuff is really important to continue to have more accountability.
RICH EHISEN, CAPITOL WEEKLY: Well, I’ll ask you one… you touched on it briefly, maybe we’ll go on it a little bit more, because this is not an issue specific just to California, we see this… All of the housing issues, a United States issue. And really at the heart of a lot of that is the whole NIMBY issue, and you talked about that a little bit up. How do you overcome that? Because I think we’re in a time where so polarized people can’t agree that today is Thursday. So how do you get the… past all of these objections that people say, ‘Yes, I wanna get all these homeless people off the street, but I don’t want them in my neighborhood.’ Right? Because that seems to be as big a challenge as anything to do with legislation or government fiat, what have you… It’s overcoming the hearts and minds issue with the communities… Where are we with that?
BW: Yeah, it’s a good question. I even sort of think about when I ran in 2017, 2018… I represent Berkeley, Berkeley was where single-family zone was created about 100 years ago. And it was created as an exclusionary kind of redlining, and it then became the model for all these other places to do the same thing. And that’s the city I represent.
Now, obviously, that was 100 years ago, very different, but one could argue that the single-family zoning sort of its origins are exactly, just that: It is exclusionary in nature. And I ran on a pretty pro-housing agenda, which at the time was more controversial, which now is not as much. I think why that changes how you said as an example, NIMBYism still exists, but I think that the need for the solution and the need to solve the problem is outweighing the NIMBYism. And I think that’s what lawmakers are saying. We have to fix this problem. It’s the number one issue… if you poll right now, it’s like housing and homelessness and climate change. Obviously that’s another big issue… So people care about it, but in their day-to-day life, it’s housing, affordability, housing and security homelessness. And it’s been like that for a decade, and so I think people just want to see a solution desperately.
They want to be able to drive down the street and not see homeless folks. They wanna be able to know that they’re not gonna lose their place. They wanna be able to know that if they lose their job, like they can get on their feet, it can take them a couple months and they’re gonna be fine. They wanna know that their kids live in a safe neighborhood. People want this so desperately, and so I think that that is outweighing the sort of NIMBYism.
Another thing is, when you look at the NIMBYism it tends to be the same folks coming to the Tuesday City Council meetings kind of over and over again, and I think with the birth of this sort of YIMBY movement, there’s a counter balance to that now that there hasn’t been in years prior, which I think is also really important. And I look at that even in my own sort of my own political career, where I had this sort of nascent kind of YIMBY group who was kind of being created when I was running and we kind of grew up together a little bit where I was kind of out there on this issue in a way that was maybe politically vulnerable, and they were growing. And now it’s very normal to say, ‘Yes, we need to build housing.’ Now, I say it on the floor of the Assembly, like every week, you know. To anyone who will listen to me. So I think just the politics have shifted on it, it still exists, but I do think that politics have shifted on it.
REMOTE VIEWER: We have a question from our remote viewer, and it’s about a AB 309, which is a social housing bill, the person posted this note that you’re not listed as a sponsor on that, I just wondered if you comment about that bill and suing maybe in general sure, yeah. That’ll be our last question, I think.
BW: Yeah, so as a general of thumb, I usually don’t co-sponsor bills till they make it outside of my committee ’cause the bills I have to come through and we have to make changes. And it makes it easier for us to do that. Generally. Now 423, I’m on board because I’m making that a priority of this bill. I also started the Select Committee on Social Housing, and so I’m a big supporter of the concept and thinking through how we can create more publicly subsidized housing for folks that need it I’m on the Select Committee again this year, so the bill will come through my committee, we were probably gonna make some changes to it, but in concept, I support the concept, and I’m excited to looking forward to having more conversations in committee about the bill
TIM FOSTER, CAPITOL WEEKLY: Sorry, I know I said that was the last question, but earlier on the last panel, they talked about Article 34, which has pretty strict limits on that. That is now on the ballot for 2024. Do you have a sense of whether or not that would pass?
BW: I don’t… We will see, I’m curious else just what the ballot looks like across the board. I think I’ve introduced a housing bond, we’re looking at what… There’s also, I know ACA 1, which I think is… I think it’s ACA 1 is the number… to bring down the vote threshold to support housing and other local bonds. So I think there’s gonna be a number of things, and so I think we’ll see what the ballot looks like, writ large.
HW: I have a follow-up question to the social housing bill. I think the conversation around social housing is often looking to Austria, Vienna, and Singapore as examples, but are there also examples of social housing here in California so that you all don’t have to look abroad, and maybe there are some home-grown solutions here in your own backyard.
“When we were making 1482, we were kind of grappling with what is… What should the rent cap be? Because we didn’t have a lot of data to actually make informed public policy decisions on this. I do think 1482 needs some tightening…”
BW: Look at UC Berkeley, right? That’s a version of social housing where people of all different incomes live in housing that’s operated by the University. It’s safe, it’s reliable… if you can get in, of course, because that’s the challenge with Berkeley… but I think there’s microcosms of examples of what that can look like, but I think generally, the idea of having kind of mixed income housing that’s heavily subsidized that we are investing as a state to ensure that we have the housing stock that we need is a concept broadly that I support and I applaud Alex Lee for continuing this conversation, ’cause I think also kind of defining what it is, what it looks like and what it can be, I think is important.
And I’m all about like, Let’s put all ideas on the table. Like, we have problems, we have to fix, and if we have unique solutions, let’s explore those, let’s go through the committee process to do that, to flush out what this can look like, because we have to get to a solution.
HW: I’m gonna try to squeeze out just a couple more minutes here or cause in 2019, one of the first housing bills that I had written on was AB 1482, which established the rent cap and the just cause eviction protections for tenants. Now, there’s gonna be another bill that will expand some of those protections, which could likely invite another… another housing battle between Apartment Association realtors, affordable housing groups, tenant protection advocacy organizations. Is the Legislature prepared to take that battle on again or…
BW: Yeah, so I was a joint author on fortune to is actually my first year coming in here, and I actually… Part of my platform when I ran was running on a… Essentially that what became that bill of protecting really against the most egregious forms of the rent gouging that we have been saying, and we’re talking… And you hear these stories, right, of like 40% increase in rent. I’m gonna take a moment to use this as a commercial to also say I’ve tried for three years to pass a rental registry. Talk about transparency…..I think you asked the transparency question – last year, I couldn’t even get through my own committee, right. And transparency around rental data, I think is actually really, really important because we don’t… I mean, you have these sort of back-end databases that, like, apartments.com use and others, but lawmakers and think tanks and policymakers and reporters don’t actually have a real sense of the rental data out there. It’s very hard to come by.
So, my idea was like, let’s have the landlords do a two-page report on, did rents increase? Did they decrease? Was there evictions, like basic level data so that we have an understanding. So when we were making 1482, we were kind of grappling with what is… What should the rent cap be? Because we didn’t have a lot of data to actually make informed public policy decisions on this. I do think 1482 needs some tightening and some reforms… I think it’s important. I think the question of… And I’m not… I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with the bill that you’re specifically referring to, I assume it’ll be coming through my committee… so I’m sure I’ll know about it soon enough.
I do think we need to have more of those conversations. Where that’s gonna land, I think, is the big question.
HW: Well, again, I could continue talking about this, I enjoy this topic, it’s an interesting topic to cover in California, of course. Thank you for your time, Assemblymember Wicks. And I’m sure there’s gonna be lots more to come this year.
BW: Yes, thanks, Hannah. Thanks, everyone.
Support for Capitol Weekly’s Conference on Housing was provided by The Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, The Western States Petroleum Association, KP Public Affairs, Perry Communications, Capitol Advocacy, The Weideman Group, Lucas Public Affairs and California Professional Firefighters
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