Is Social Housing The Key To California’s Crisis?


Addressing California’s Housing Crisis: Introducing Social Housing

California’s housing crisis persists, leaving many without affordable homes. Despite numerous laws enacted, developers have struggled to meet the demand. However, a groundbreaking proposal by Assembly member Alex Lee offers a fresh solution. Lee’s bill aims to create a state agency dedicated to developing “social housing” – publicly owned housing that provides affordability across income levels.

Lee suggests that the state, through its own development agency, can streamline the housing process, resulting in cost savings. Unlike traditional public housing, social housing would be available to low-, middle-, and high-income residents, with rent or homeownership costs limited to 30% of their earnings. Higher-income residents would pay more, offsetting the lower prices for lower-income households.

Advocates argue that social housing promotes diversity, community investment, lower crime rates, and better access to education and jobs. Vienna, Austria, stands as an example of a successful social housing model, with over half of the city’s residents benefiting from government housing.

California has already seen success at the local level, such as in Sacramento, where a public agency built affordable units on state-owned land. However, funding remains a challenge. Lee proposes using affordable housing bonds and allowing the agency to issue its own bonds and access loans from the state treasury.

Lee’s bill, AB 309, has passed the state assembly and awaits approval from the state senate. Another competing bill, SB 555, also aims to develop a statewide social housing plan. However, both face challenges in a crowded legislative session and budget constraints.

Opposition from the California Association of Realtors centers around concerns that the state may purchase single-family homes for conversion, potentially hindering homeownership for working Californians.

Lee’s main task lies in convincing fellow lawmakers that social housing is a cost-effective solution to the housing crisis, benefiting all Californians. With housing being a fundamental need in short supply, innovative approaches like social housing hold promise for a brighter future in California.

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