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California attorney general touts Oakland development, calls for more affordable housing

California Attorney General Rob Bonta marked National Fair Housing Month at a public address in Oakland on Thursday, as the state Legislature considers whether to strengthen his enforcement powers over cities.

Bonta was surrounded by residents and small business owners at Casa Suenos, a new 181-unit affordable housing development. It was built through a partnership with nonprofit developers Bridge Housing and The Unity Council. The project is part of a mixed-use development adjacent to BART called the Fruitvale Transit Village.

“California has the largest homeless population of any state,” said Bonta. “More than half of families who rent their homes spend more than a third of their income on rent. Two hundred and ten cities across the state of California have a median home price over $1 million. Right here in Oakland, the median price for a single-family home is right around an astonishing $760,000.”

Under current law, every city and county in California must periodically update its housing element to show the state its plans to allow enough homes to be built to meet demand.

The statewide planning and zoning law was expanded in 2022 and established a goal to build 2.5 million new homes by 2030, and no less than one million of those homes must meet the needs of lower-income households.

California’s Department of Housing and Community Development is authorized to notify the attorney general when it tells cities and counties they are in violation of the law.

“On average, we are building about 100,000 new homes a year. We’re not on pace. We need to do more. We need to accelerate the building of more housing,” Bonta said.

He praised Casa Suenos, which also includes some special units and support services for people experiencing chronic homelessness.

“What is happening here in Fruitvale is an example of what is possible,” he said.

Local governments in violation of the housing law receive a court order to comply, and they have 60 days to bring their housing elements into compliance before getting hit with a monetary penalty.

But that penalty might change with a new bill that could come into effect Jan. 1, 2025 if approved by the Legislature. Senate Bill 1037, which is scheduled for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, would subject governments to new fines.

A minimum civil penalty of $10,000 per month, not to exceed $50,000 per month, would be collected for each violation from the date the violation started. The money would be earmarked for affordable housing in the affected jurisdiction.

In his statement Thursday, Bonta described some of the cases that his office has addressed and ways cities avoid the mandate to build affordable housing. The city of Elk Grove denied approval of an affordable development, citing a local ground floor retail ordinance. The city of Fullerton failed to update its housing plan and modernize its zoning code. The rental property company Invitation Homes, which owns and manages approximately 12,000 rental homes across California, violated the California Tenant Protection Act by price-gouging rents on 1,900 homes.

“Woodside declared itself a mountain lion sanctuary to avoid building the housing that it was required to build,” said Bonta. “That was wrong. We pointed that out. They reversed course within 24 hours.”

The new 181-unit Casa Suenos development in Fruitvale had over 8,000 applicants, said Chris Iglesias, CEO of The Unity Council.

“So, the need is incredible,” Iglesias said, pointing to a neighboring affordable development. “Casa Irabella, right next door, has 94 units, and we had over 4,500 people apply. So, there’s an incredible need. If they qualify on their incomes, and they get put in a lottery, then it’s pretty much up to the lottery.”

Source: NBC Bay Area

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