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Bill Would Help Make Renting in California Reasonable Again

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As discussed yesterday, Los Angeles is in a rental crisis: rents are staggeringly high and trying to find a place that's actually affordable on a normal income (and that isn't disgusting) is becoming more and more difficult. New high-end developments are being announced every day, but affordable places are fewer and farther between than ever, in part because government money to build them has all but evaporated. Overall, state and federal funding for low- and moderate-income housing "has plummeted 79% over the last five years," according to a study from the California Housing Partnership. (The state's 2011 execution of local redevelopment agencies, which partnered with private developers to build in needy neighborhoods, was a huge blow.) That government cheese was pretty much the only thing encouraging developers to build these less-profitable units. So in an effort to stem the crisis comes SB391, a state bill that aims to generate $300 million to $720 million for reasonable housing every year with a $75 fee to record real estate documents, reports the LA Times. That money would go toward creating more than 10,000 low-income and moderate-income residences every year. Only documents related to refinancing or foreclosure filing would be subject to the fee; anything related to a sale would still be free and clear. And it wouldn't exactly be a one-time fee, but it'd be close: refinancing would typically require two or three such filings, an expert told the Times, meaning an extra cost of about $225.

Proponents—labor groups, some developers, homeless advocates—say that this bill will be "an important tool to combat the affordability crisis." In case there was any doubt that there is, in fact, a crisis, the language of the bill states that 73 percent of the homeless people in the state are living on the streets because they can't afford a place to live (and that's aside from all the other data on housing unaffordability for even median income residents). But opponents of paying for things that poor people might benefit from are coming at this one from all sides.

As expected, the California Association of Realtors and credit unions oppose the bill, with one rep for the former complaining that it "disproportionally burdens one segment of the society with something that should be borne by the entire population" (unlike unreasonable housing costs and stagnant wages?). A consultant, meanwhile, claims that what's really driving up the cost of housing is whiny neighbors whose ability to block developments creates delays and drive up costs; he says it would be more effective to "limit the ability of neighbors to challenge projects" than to pass this bill. Except that there aren't a lot of NIMBYs in neighborhoods that actually need affordable housing.

The bill, passed by the state Senate in last year's session, is currently in the Assembly.
· Bill seeks to ease California's affordability housing crisis [LAT]
· SB-391 [CLI]
· Los Angeles is in a Rental Crisis [Curbed LA]