Editorial: Newsom expected to sign bill creating unified LA County affordable housing agency

Finally, a bill that can help solve the desperate lack of affordable housing in Los Angeles has passed the state legislature. Senate Bill 679 creates the Los Angeles County Affordable Housing Solutions Agency and outlines an enterprising plan bringing together representatives from across the county to build and preserve affordable housing and provide distressed tenants with assistance emergency rental and access to a lawyer for landlord disputes.

Governor Gavin Newsom should not hesitate to sign it. This is the right approach and it is time to implement it.

The bill has had its ups and downs over the past year and a half. Last year, it passed the Senate but stalled in the Assembly, mired in a dispute between lawmakers and the state’s powerful Building and Construction Trades Council. The bill’s author, Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), amended it to require workers on projects to be paid a living wage to earn membership of the powerful union. This ultimately allowed the bill to pass the Assembly.

Days before the session ended last week, it nearly stalled again after some lawmakers raised last-minute concerns about the composition of the agency’s board. The Assembly and the Senate should be congratulated for passing it.

The bill creates an agency governed by a 21-person board, made up of the five county supervisors; five representatives of the city of LA, including the mayor and the president of the city council; a representative from Long Beach; and a member of the San Gabriel Valley, South Bay, Gateway Cities, and San Fernando/Antelope Valley region. A fifth seat would rotate every four years between the above regions, and the first representative is now should come from the San Gabriel Valley.

Last week, Kamlager urged his colleagues to see the big picture and explain how the new agency can help solve the big, unsolved affordable housing problem plaguing every corner of the county: “The people of Los Angeles don’t don’t think about us and they don’t think about their politics. They think about the fact that their housing options are diminishing and their housing costs are increasing. And they’re asking us to do better on their behalf,” she said.

The county has done next to nothing to significantly increase the supply of affordable housing. Since the dissolution of state redevelopment agencies a decade ago, there has been no comparable program or permanent source of funding to build affordable housing. And no city intervened. Fewer than 10 of LA County’s 88 cities leverage their own budgets to produce or preserve affordable housing.

This bill has attracted significant support in the different cities and will allow them to work together to create more housing and come up with a financing mechanism. No tax is levied without voter approval. Voters could be asked to approve a local measure in 2024 to fund the agency’s initiatives because it’s too late for advocates to collect the signatures needed to put it on the November ballot. But the agency could still apply for federal, state, and philanthropic grants, so it makes sense to create it as soon as possible.

This is an ambitious and smart plan to solve a problem that has eluded any solution until now. Each part of the county will get a seat at the table. Let’s get enough affordable housing that no one has to live in an unfinished garage, no family of four is stuck in a one-bedroom apartment, and, worst of all, no one ends up on a sidewalk. Let us see what this bill can accomplish.

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