Candidates for California governor take on housing crisis
By JONATHAN J. COOPER
Mar. 09, 2018
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Six leading candidates for California governor agreed Thursday that it's too hard to build new homes in California and offered wide ranging solutions to rein in exploding housing costs and rising homelessness.
The candidates spoke separately at a conference in Sacramento organized by Housing California, an advocacy group.
For decades, California has failed to build enough homes to meet demand, particularly in popular coastal cities such as San Francisco.
Democrats Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa, the front-runners according to public polling, took jabs from some of their rivals over their ambitious plans to spur construction of 3.5 million homes by 2025. Republicans Travis Allen and John Cox drew hisses for their skeptical views on subsidized housing, while Democrat John Chiang called for a massive influx of cash for it.
Here's a closer look at their comments:
A Democrat and former mayor of San Francisco, Newsom defended his push to build 3.5 million homes in seven years — a feat that would require a massive expansion in construction.
"The problem with being audacious is no one thinks it can be done," Newsom said.
Some of his rivals have criticized the goal as unrealistic, noting there are likely not enough construction workers to build 500,000 houses and apartments per year even if he could eliminate other barriers that have slowed housing construction. Just over 100,000 new housing units were built in 2016, according to the Construction Industry Research Board. Construction has topped 200,000 units in just two of the last 20 years.
Newsom said the state needs a combination of incentives and punishment to force local governments to live up to their housing goals.
"Mayors may claim they care about housing, but mayors really care more about retail because they capture sales tax. Counties capture property tax," said Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco city and county. "That's not a good incentive for good behavior."
The former mayor of Los Angeles, who has called housing and homelessness crisis a "man-made disaster," called out people who demand solutions to homelessness while fighting any efforts to expand housing near them.
"You have too many communities who walk over the homeless and complain all the time about the number of homeless, and push back and sue every time you try to put affordable, workforce, homeless housing in the neighborhood," said Villaraigosa, a Democrat.
He said a $4 billion housing bond on this year's budget isn't enough money and said another one "in the neighborhood of" $6 billion should follow.
He also called for recreating redevelopment agencies, which were a major source of funding for low-income housing but were eliminated in 2011.
Chiang, the state treasurer and a Democrat, called for the largest influx of cash — a $9 billion bond on top of the one on the ballot this year to build affordable housing, plus $600 million from the general fund, though he didn't specify how he'd spend that cash.
He set a housing goal of building 1.6 million units over a decade, which he called "the realistic plan."
"Where were others when housing wasn't a hot and sexy topic? They weren't there. They let this crisis unfold to the point where it is today," Chiang said.
Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen drew boos and hisses from the crowd of about 1,500 — many of them affordable housing developers and advocates — when he suggested tax cuts could help solve the housing crisis by giving people more money.
Allen said he was "absolutely against" housing subsidies like the one on the ballot.
"The California Democrats do not need to saddle Californians with even more debt. This is the entirely wrong approach," Allen said.
Cox, a Republican businessman, also took a skeptical view housing subsidies, saying it would be better to eliminate environmental and other regulations that add time and cost to housing construction.
"They can subsidize a few thousand homes somewhere and that might help a few thousand people," Cox said, "but it's not going to help the hundreds of thousands who are living day to day spending 40 to 50 percent of their income on housing."
Cox said his rivals won't reform development regulations because those provisions are popular with environmentalists, labor unions and other interest groups that contribute to campaigns.
A Democrat and the former superintendent of public instruction, Eastin was the only candidate to unequivocally support repealing a state law that restricts the expansion of rent control, known as Costa-Hawkins.
"It hasn't worked. Everybody knows it," Eastin said.
Housing developers say expanding rent control would make it harder for them to turn a profit, discouraging new construction and exasperating the state's housing shortfall.
She blasted Newsom and Villaraigosa's housing goals as unrealistic and said the state should shoot for 300,000 annual units — a rate of construction the state has achieved before, but not since 1986.