Check your U.S. voter registration status or register to vote here.

It’s Time for Action on Housing

Buffy Wicks
Jan 24, 2018 · 6 min read

The Bay Area’s housing crisis saps our incomes, shuts out members of our community, and reduces diversity. Here are some ideas for how to address it.

The greatest threat to our prosperity, diversity and equity in the Bay Area is the skyrocketing cost of housing. Neighborhoods with access to good schools and public transportation are now out of reach even for middle-income families. Our housing crisis is part and parcel of our broader struggle with growing wealth inequality — California has the highest concentration of billionaires and millionaires, while at the same time 40% of population is living at or near the poverty line. Housing is a fundamental human need and our current status quo is simply not meeting that need.

Forcing people from all walks of life to move further and further away from their jobs and spend hours on the road commuting is not a Bay Area or progressive value. Our severe housing shortage is pushing away the very people that give our communities their strength, vitality, and character. Teachers, first responders, restaurant workers, seniors, artists, and activists find themselves increasingly excluded from the Bay Area’s thriving urban centers, disproportionately impacting communities of color.

Bay Area cities that refuse to build enough housing for the people who work there do real harm to individual and public health, to our environment, and most of all, to the people who are left homeless by the housing shortage. As I work to address California’s housing crisis, I will never forget there are people for whom our decisions can mean the difference between being housed and being on street.

As the next Assemblymember for District 15, I would fight for progressive and practical solutions that focus on creating homes for everyone who wants to be a part of our community. I firmly believe that we can achieve sensible policies that create housing, strengthen our neighborhoods, and help the Bay Area live up to its values of welcoming newcomers and sharing prosperity.

The California legislature — with leadership by the Bay Area’s very own Senators Skinner and Weiner, and Assembly Members Thurmond, Bonta, and Chiu — took a significant step in the right direction last fall by passing a set of bills called the “Housing Package.” The Housing Package provides funding to house the homeless, helps communities better plan for new residents, and speeds up homebuilding in places that aren’t building their fair share of homes. But we have to do more.

Here’s what I will fight for as your next Assemblymember:

Build more homes for folks at all income levels — and build them quickly.

We need more housing across the board. We need affordable housing for families and folks threatened by homelessness. Our homelessness crisis is squarely a result of our housing shortage. To fix this, we need to expand upon the affordable housing funding measures passed in the legislature last year to increase the production of subsidized housing for low income people. This means we need to pass the $4 billion dollar statewide housing bond. In addition, we should consider creating the California Public Infrastructure Bank, devoted to financing more affordable housing. We also need more homes for our teachers, nurses, non-profit workers and other middle-income folks. To this end, we should create workforce housing and reclaim public lands like parking lots for housing. We should also support alternative ways to promote more housing like incentivizing limited equity housing cooperatives and accessory dwelling units. Building more homes at all income levels — low income and market rate — will ease the pressure cooker nature of our market and get Bay Area people into the homes they need.

Protect existing tenants from displacement, especially seniors and people with disabilities.

We have to guard aggressively against displacement and create a safety net for low income families, who are our most vulnerable residents on the brink of instability. Two out of five Californians live in or around the poverty line. Three out of four Californians can’t weather an emergency expense of $700 or more. Nearly half of renters spend 35% of of their income on rent. We can create policy and provide relief in a few potential ways.

One, we should fix Costa-Hawkins, the state law which outlaws rent stabilization for any unit built after 1995. One potential fix could include a rolling date for buildings to come under local rent stabilization laws, as opposed to the 1995 fixed date. This would ensure new housing can be financed and built to support community needs while still empowering local municipalities to implement appropriate rent stabilization measures.

Secondly, we should significantly increase and expand the Renters Tax Credit (RTC) and set rates based on metro area. The RTC is currently only $60 per person or $120 for a family. Homeowners get the financial benefit of deducting their mortgage interest. Renters need relief too. Putting real money into the pockets of our renters can go along way to helping those out who are $700 away from falling over a precipice and spiraling into poverty.

Lastly, to prevent unscrupulous landlords from wrongly kicking tenants out of their homes, I would also push for legal services for folks facing unfair eviction. We know this works. We’ve seen success in the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act pilot program designed to help low-income Californians facing high-stakes civil cases. The results were a drastic increase in the likelihood of settlement, the majority of which reduced back-owed rent or helped protect tenants’ credit by keeping eviction notices off the public record. Among Shriver program clients, 67% of cases settled, as compared to 34% of people who represented themselves. While all Shriver clients received eviction notices, only 6% were ultimately evicted from their homes. Let’s bring this to scale and really help those that need it.

Grow in a sustainable way by building more homes in walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods.

As progressives, we know that welcoming new people to our country and our communities does not mean sacrificing our quality of life. Our cities are far too dependent on cars, roadways, and interstates. As we build new housing, we need to do so in forward thinking ways that makes walking possible and incentivizes use of public transportation and bike commuting. Consequently, we should be linking our housing goals with transportation funding so we can create incentives for cities to build. Creating walkable neighborhoods along transit corridors is critical to meet our climate action goals and support safe and healthy communities.

Tackle Our Homelessness Crisis Head On

We can’t talk about housing without addressing our growing homelessness crisis. We see it everyday and it’s time to act. We need to do three things: one, we should provide a safety net to prevent homelessness before it starts. Those most vulnerable are folks who are exiting from criminal justice, health care, child welfare system and military institutions. They should be discharged into stable housing, rather than onto the street. We should provide mental health services, substance abuse counseling, education and employment assistance. Secondly, we need to prevent chronic homelessness by responding quickly to those newly on the streets. Folks need access to shelters with low barriers of entry and rapid rehousing with short term rental assistance. Lastly, we need to invest significant resources for the chronically homeless and those with severe disabilities. This means permanent supportive housing without any preconditions, which is a necessary foundation to begin treating health issues. This should be housing with no time limit and wraparound supportive services that promote residents’ recovery and maximize their independence.

I believe in — and am committed to fighting for — an East Bay that is sustainable and accessible to all. This is why Assemblymember David Chiu, chair of the Housing Committee, and State Senator Scott Wiener, a member of the Housing and Transportation Committee, have endorsed my candidacy. We need practical, pragmatic policies to get us there. I know from talking to you and your family, friends, and neighbors that you expect a representative who not only cares about your issues, but who is dedicated to achieving workable solutions that can win statewide support. I believe that I am the candidate who can meet those expectations, and I hope you’ll join with me as I work to bring California home.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store