It’s a familiar lament: There is not enough affordable housing in Los Angeles. But so far, there have been few solutions to the biggest crisis facing the county, exacerbating homelessness and keeping hundreds of thousands unstably housed.
One glimmer of hope is an enterprising state bill, Senate Bill 679, which would create the Los Angeles County Affordable Housing Solutions Agency to build and preserve affordable housing and offer struggling renters emergency rental assistance and access to legal counsel for disputes with landlords. The agency would be governed by a 21-person board. Among the members of the board would be the five county supervisors; five representatives from the city of L.A., including the mayor and City Council president; a representative from Long Beach; and a member each from the San Gabriel Valley, the South Bay, the Gateway Cities and the San Fernando/Antelope Valley region. A fifth seat would rotate every four years between the above regions, and the first representative would come from the Gateway Cities.
But the bill has been to hell and back in the last year and a half. Last year, it passed the Senate but stalled in the Assembly, mired in a dispute between legislators and the powerful State Building and Construction Trades Council. The bill’s author, Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), met with stakeholders, amended the bill to make sure workers on projects got fair wages “and even lit candles,” she says, to get it moving this year. It worked. She got the buy-in of the powerful labor union and eventually got the bill through the Assembly.
Now the bill is back in the Senate (to align the small differences between the Senate version and the Assembly version). Wednesday is the last day to vote on any legislation this year.
But a couple of senators are fretting over an 11th-hour issue. In the original bill, there were two representatives from the San Gabriel Valley on the governing board. The current version has just one San Gabriel Valley representative (the same number as all the other regions and the city of Long Beach.) According to Kamlager and others, Sens. Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park) and Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), whose districts include the San Gabriel Valley, were upset about the change. Kamlager has offered to switch the first rotating seat to the San Gabriel Valley representative to appease Rubio and Portantino. So far they appear unmoved.
This is kind of ridiculous.
It’s time — it’s past time — to look at the big picture here. This county has done almost nothing to significantly increase the amount of affordable housing. Since the state’s redevelopment agencies were dissolved a decade ago, there has been no comparable program or permanent source of funding to build affordable housing. And no city has stepped up. Fewer than 10 of L.A. County’s 88 cities tap their own budgets to produce or preserve affordable housing.
This bill has finally drawn major support across the various cities and will allow them to work together to create more housing and come up with a funding mechanism. No tax gets levied without voter approval. Voters may be asked 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, state and philanthropic grants, so it makes sense to create it as soon as possible.
This is an ambitious and smart plan to tackle a problem that has eluded any fix so far. It requires some commitment, but every part of the county will get a seat at the table. Allowing this bill to die would be a travesty. Let’s not allow small stuff to stop a real effort to save people from living in garages and on street corners. Let’s do this.