When an ambitious bill to create a Los Angeles County affordable housing agency stalled in the Assembly late last year after passing in the Senate, author Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) met with stakeholders, considered amendments “and even lit candles” to get it moving, she says.
Apparently, the candles and her other efforts worked. Senate Bill 679 is now moving through the Legislature again with a hearing in the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee scheduled for Wednesday.
This is very good news, because Los Angeles desperately needs more affordable housing and this bill would help. It would set up the Los Angeles County Affordable Housing Solutions Agency to build new affordable housing, preserve existing affordable housing and offer struggling renters emergency rental assistance and access to legal counsel to help resolve landlord-tenant disputes.
If the bill to create the agency passes, it would still need a financing mechanism. The best approach would be to ask voters to approve a local measure in 2024 to fund the agency’s initiatives since it’s too late for advocates to collect the signatures needed to place it on the November ballot.
But the agency could still apply for federal and state grants, so it makes sense to create it as soon as possible. Also Kamlager is trying to get an allocation of $20 million in the state budget for the agency, which she says could help with rental subsidies, preservation of existing affordable housing and some new construction. This would be a smart use of state funds.
The bill stalled in the Assembly last year over what, if anything, it should specify about wages and the distribution of skilled workers for construction projects. There’s a long-standing dispute between legislators and the powerful State Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents a variety of skilled laborers, over what this and other housing-related bills should say.
To get the buy-in of the powerful union, Kamlager amended the bill to require workers on projects under 40 units be paid the countywide prevailing wage for public works. Any project with 40 or more units would be subject to the city of L.A.’s Project Labor Agreement requirements on worker pay and the mix of skill levels on projects.
The bill was also, wisely, amended to exempt actions by the new agency to finance new building or preserve affordable housing from challenges under the California Environmental Quality Act. This state law, which requires an assessment of the impacts of new development, is often misused by opponents of development to stop or slow housing projects for low-income or homeless people. CEQA requirements will still apply to the actual development projects financed by the agency.
We have already lost precious time getting this agency set up and at work creating and preserving affordable housing in Los Angeles County. With the trades council offering no objections and the support of numerous nonprofits, including affordable housing developers, along with the county and the cities of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Culver City, and Bell Gardens, among others, the Legislature should pass this bill as soon as possible.
And, just to be safe, Kamlager should keep lighting candles.