With the State continuing to enjoy a strong surge in revenue, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget includes substantial funds to address housing needs. Newsom wants to spend $2 billion on homelessness, and another $2 billion to address housing in general. Of course, there are those who say this still isn’t enough, and others who say Newsom’s priorities are wrong, but there are a lot of good things in his proposed budget. I’m not a Newsom fan, but I think that in some ways he’s on the right track. As usual, the devil is in the details.
One of the things Newsom wants to promote is urban infill development, in other words building dense residential housing where infrastructure already exits, as opposed to more suburban sprawl. This is nothing new. State and local politicians have been pushing this for years, and in theory it makes perfect sense. One of the main goals of this policy is to make people less reliant on cars, encouraging them to take transit instead, or to ride a bike or maybe even just walk. The overriding goal is to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The problem is that we’ve been doing this for years and it hasn’t been working. In fact, it seems like we’re going in the wrong direction. LA and San Francisco have been building thousands of new residential units near transit hubs, and yet transit ridership has been falling for years. Worse, in Southern California the rate of car ownership has been climbing steadily since 2000.
So what do we do? Well, there is evidence suggesting that high-priced new development in urban centers is causing gentrification, which displaces low-income transit riders. I can tell you I’ve seen numerous instances in Hollywood where low-income tenants have been thrown out of their apartments to make way for new projects. We need to preserve existing housing that’s accessible to low-income households, and to build a lot more affordable housing. That’s why I’m glad that Newsom is setting aside $500 million for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, and another $500 million to preserve and increase affordable housing stock. Of course, much more money is needed, since the federal government has slashed funding for affordable housing over the last several years. But the money Newsom is providing is a step in the right direction. In LA, the vast majority of transit riders live in low-income households. We need to help them remain near the transit hubs they rely on.
Another smart move Newsom has made is to earmark $100 million to support the conversion of office buildings to apartments. This makes a lot of sense, not just because more people are working from home these days, but because it helps minimize the significant environmental impacts caused both by the demolition of old buildings and the construction of new ones. As many people have said, the greenest building is the one that’s already standing.
The funding Newsom has proposed will not solve our housing problems, but it will help. That is, assuming the legislature supports his budget. This article from CalMatters offers a more detailed breakdown.