In the latest episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast.” CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon are joined by former housing policy advisor Annie Fryman to tackle a crucial question: If housing is such a key priority for legislators, why can’t they get anything done?
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Again and again, Californians name housing affordability and homelessness as the biggest issues facing the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom made building more housing a key promise of his gubernatorial campaign, and Democratic leaders in both the state Senate and Assembly have named housing as some of their top priorities this year.
Yet the state has failed repeatedly to pass legislation that tackles California’s housing crisis. Why is that?
On the latest episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon tackle the question with the help of Annie Fryman, former staffer for state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco who authored several of the biggest housing bills in recent years.
Liam and Manuela break down the powerful interest groups that dominate the housing debate — including affordable housing developers and labor groups — and why their seemingly overlapping priorities often clash. While the groups often aren’t powerful enough to pass legislation on their own, they often succeed at blocking bills.
This episode takes listeners back to 2017, a time when despite conflicting demands from groups on all sides of the affordable housing debate, legislative leaders and then-Gov. Jerry Brown banded together to pass arguably the biggest housing package in recent history. The discussion breaks down the eight-dimensional chess that allowed the state to streamline some housing production and fund billions of dollars for affordable housing, which included climate change and other policy and politics far outside the realm of housing — and one fateful phone call.
“It was known not just among my team with Senator Wiener, but it signaled to other folks in the Legislature that there was no option where this didn’t get done so you had to play ball,” Fryman said of the bill that allowed developers to streamline certain housing projects. “It doesn’t mean you have to bend over and give everything that they want, but if you didn’t play ball with that game of negotiation, that there would be consequences for you.”
While she praised Brown’s leadership, she didn’t fault Newsom. While Newsom has made housing a priority, when the state is on fire, that moves to the top of his agenda, she said.
Fryman said it will be difficult to recreate what she called “a perfect storm of good circumstances.”
And while the bills passed in 2017 and since then will change the trajectory of California’s housing crisis, she said, it will take years for a significant impact.
Affordable housing advocates are asking why bills supported by state Senate leader Toni Atkins got stuck in the Assembly. One answer appears to be a labor provision pushed by the State Building and Construction Trades Council. But after some changes, several bills were passed and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Key provisions of the state housing package have been in effect for about nine months now. That’s far too soon for a definitive judgement, but long enough to discern some early trends. Here’s what we know so far.