During last night’s California State Assembly legislative session, AB 309, the social housing bill, made it out of the Senate and Assembly and got sent to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk.
It was this past January when Assemblymember Alex Lee (District 24) first introduced the bill, in the interest of addressing the shortage of affordable housing now spanning all income levels across California. AB 309 was crafted by five Democratic Party Assemblymembers (Ash Kalra, Wendy Carrillo, Chris Ward, Steve Bennett, and Matt Haney) and three Democratic Senators (Caroline Menjivar, Ben Allen, and Scott Wiener).
The Beat caught up with Lee by phone on Friday. “It’s passed our legislature for the first time in history,” said Lee, highlighting the fact that this hasn’t been California’s first social housing bill, but thus far has been the one with the most momentum.
Already, California’s government has shown itself to be supportive of affordable mixed-income housing. Lee said that Governor Newsom tends to play it “close to the vest” when it comes to whether he’ll sign or veto a given bill, but nonetheless the Assemblymember is feeling positive.
By now, Lee is accustomed to hearing opposition to the idea of social housing. The main thing he hears is that it’s not the government’s role to get involved in housing people. “This is not of course the position of the governor’s administration,” he made clear. More importantly, said Lee, “Planned use of housing is very much integral in the role of government…”
He went on to cite the government’s well-established involvement in tax credits, subsidies, planning, zoning, and other fundamental facets of the housing process.
Lee went on to add, “You also hear that it’s not feasible, that it can’t be done at scale.”
In response to that, he generally points to two countries, Austria and Singapore, which he calls, respectively, the European and Asian gold standard when it comes to social housing. In fact, next Tuesday, Lee will join a delegation of state legislators from other states to travel to Singapore and Hong Kong to learn more about their existing social housing models.
What will happen if Governor Newsome signs the bill? Lee explained, “The development of mixed-income affordable housing will begin.” This would happen in 2024, upon three select state-owned excess properties. The three sites could be anywhere in California, pending administrative negotiation. “We do three at first, and we keep going from there…” Lee said, expressing the hope that social housing scales up as time goes on.
What kind of housing, specifically? “You can have any arrangement, really,” said Lee. It’s about ensuring affordability. California residents could end up seeing anything from low-rise multi-family homes to condos, although the rental model tends to be prominent when it comes to affordable housing. However, AB 309 does leave room for the possibility of ownership, as well.
Next up is the lobbying process: relevant stakeholders and partner organizations who’ve been behind the effort to advance the bill will be writing the governor, calling the governor, and otherwise getting their message out between now and October 14, which is Newsom’s deadline to either sign or veto it.
“I don’t know what the governor will do,” Lee said, “but I’m optimistic he will sign it.”