July 14, 2024
California housing: Realtors make a deal on ballot measure

In summary

The California Association of Realtors agrees not to oppose a constitutional amendment to reduce the voter approval threshold for housing bonds. In exchange, the measure will not apply to single-family homes. Some housing advocates are angry about the carve-out.

A November ballot measure to make it easier for local governments to borrow money for new infrastructure and affordable housing will likely include a big exception, preventing that money from being used to buy single-family homes. That’s thanks to a last-minute deal hammered out between a top legislative Democrat and the state real estate lobby. 

Next Thursday is the deadline for state lawmakers to get their preferred initiatives finalized for the Nov. 5 ballot. That makes these final weeks of June peak sausage-making season in the state Capitol.

The affordable housing measure is a prime example of legislative bratwurst. 

Last year, Davis Democratic Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry pushed through the proposed amendment to the state constitution that would lower the electoral bar that local infrastructure and housing bonds need to clear. Currently, that threshold sits at a heightened two-thirds majority of voters. Aguiar-Curry’s proposal, which had failed to get out of the Legislature three times until last session, would bring that figure down to a more attainable 55%.

Though the amendment passed last year, it left some implementation questions unanswered. Two bills — ACA 10 and AB 2813 — were introduced to do that tweaking. That set of a fresh months-long round of negotiations. 

After winning an exemption for single-family home, duplex, triplex and fourplex purchases, the California Association of Realtors announced that it would no longer oppose the legislation — and by implication, the Nov. 5 ballot measure.

“Over the course of several months, the author, her staff and stakeholders were able to reach an agreement that satisfies the concerns C.A.R. raised. C.A.R. would like to thank the author for her leadership and steadfast commitment to ensuring that homeownership can become a reality for generations of Californians,” the organization’s lobbyist Vanessa Chavez said in a letter obtained by CalMatters.

The association did not respond to a request for comment late today.

The ballot measure would still allow local bond issues to provide funds for the construction of smaller affordable units. The ban applies to purchasing existing homes — notably, one of the ways that Realtors make money.

The neutrality of the Realtors — regularly among the biggest campaign spenders in California — is a political win for backers of the initiative. 

But many of the supporters of the constitutional amendment aren’t pleased about the last-minute agreement. Earlier this week, a coalition of tenant rights groups, “Yes in My Backyard” advocates and legal aid associations penned a letter urging Aguiar-Curry not to accept the Realtors deal, saying that it would “enshrine a discriminatory housing policy in state law.” 

Exempting single-family homes from a statewide affordable housing policy is also symbolically hard to swallow, said Francisco Dueñas, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy organization Housing Now!

“The single family map that we have now comes from a lot of redlining, from racist systems that we’ve had in the past,” he said. “If we are again saying that those areas are off the table for these solutions, are we then further enshrining the legacy of these racist policies?”

Dueñas also said the new restrictions on bond funds would prohibit local governments from pursuing novel approaches to housing affordability, including community land trusts.

Though the Realtors won a key exemption, there are exceptions to that exemption. Local governments could still use the funds to purchase homes and reserve them for “survivors of domestic violence, refugees, or people with developmental disabilities.”

Making it easier to pass housing bonds is a top priority for affordable housing advocates this year. That’s especially true for those in the San Francisco Bay Area, where a first-of-its-kind regional housing finance authority plans to float an IOU of as much as $20 billion to fund housing projects across the region, if voters approve in November. 

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