In summary

The state plans to use all the tools necessary to enforce new laws and speed up development of new housing.

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By Gustavo Velasquez, Special to CalMatters

Gustavo Velasquez is the director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

For generations, people have come to California for the promise of a better life. Our state has every imaginable resource to ensure a quality standard of living for all, but the California Dream is threatened by a housing supply shortage that has resulted in exorbitant housing costs and far too many people living on the streets. 

In the past few years, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature established new laws and regulatory streamlining to move Californians from homeless, to housed, to homeowners. But one fact remains: local jurisdictions hold the keys to approve how much, how fast and where housing is developed.

So our challenge now: placing an even greater emphasis on making sure local governments are approving housing, and at a much, much faster clip than they ever have before, and enforcing housing laws on the books whenever necessary.

As we enter a new cycle of housing production goals for the next eight years, called Regional Housing Needs Allocation, it is imperative for the state to use all the tools at its disposal to hold local jurisdictions accountable to meet the housing supply needed. Each jurisdiction must plan for these housing goals through its upcoming housing element. Recently, about 20 laws raised the bar on what it takes to have a compliant housing element. 

The Department of Housing and Community Development is providing technical assistance, and jurisdictions are working hard to meet new requirements. The result is that each housing element that the state deems compliant has a far higher likelihood of leading to real production – more housing near jobs and community amenities. This means more pathways from homelessness to homeownership, for more Californians of all incomes.

If, however, localities are unwilling to do their part to realize this vision of more housing for all, the state will use its authority to compel them to do so. The governor set this precedent early in his administration by filing suit against Huntington Beach for its reluctance to abide by state housing requirements. In the past, housing plans could simply end at compliance without any follow-up. That ends on this administration’s watch. We are serious about local housing accountability. 

Newsom recently announced a new Housing Accountability Unit at the Department of Housing and Community Development to ensure every jurisdiction does its part. The Housing Accountability Unit enables us to expand our existing work and scale up the level of assistance, monitoring and enforcement. The unit will triple the number of policy staff and attorneys dedicated to ensuring compliance with state law, from housing element compliance to local streamlining requirements, to affirmatively furthering fair housing.

At the Department of Housing and Community Development, we are committed to using the totality of strong pro-housing requirements codified in state law. The Housing Accountability Unit helps us fulfill this commitment – ensuring that local governments approve units along the full continuum of housing: the creation of units spanning exits from homelessness, deeply affordable rentals, to market rate rentals and homeownership opportunities. 

Research and data will also continue to inform our priorities. The state must focus on housing the market is not producing, for reasons of cost, impediments in the regulatory landscape or community opposition. This means focusing on housing that mostly serves the unhoused, those at risk of homelessness, working families and individuals in poverty, low-income people in rural California, and those living in economically and racially segregated communities. 

Paying particular attention to these areas and populations in our accountability work will go a long way toward reducing the burden that the lack of housing affordability represents to California’s poor families and individuals. In other words, housing justice and equity must be the cornerstones of our accountability efforts. 

Only with this level of attention and focus can California start coming out of an affordability crisis that, if kept unchecked, will stall our economic recovery, compound COVID-related inequities and impede California from remaining the undisputed land of opportunity.

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