Tackling California’s Housing Crisis

June 13, 2019, Donna Kimura, Affordable Housing Finance - State housing officials discuss the challenges ahead at NCSHA's annua conference.  With a growing homeless population and daunting goals in front of them, California’s housing leaders say they are determined to tackle the affordability crisis.  

"I know there's many people who are one or two paychecks away from homelessness, and if you don't have infrastructure or you don't have family to lean on and you have an illness, it spirals very quickly," says California Treasurer Fiona Ma, at the NCSHA Housing Credit Connect 2019 conference in San Francisco.

“We are really trying to work together and streamline our processes, figure out how to meet Gov. Gavin Newsom’s goal of building 3.5 million new homes by 2025,” said Fiona Ma, who was elected state treasurer in 2018.

That’s 500,000 new homes each year, a massive number considering fewer than 80,000 new homes were built last year.

To reach the lofty new goal, California’s multiple housing agencies need to work together more than ever before, according to Ma, keynote speaker at the National Council of State Housing Agencies’ (NCSHA) annual Housing Credit Connect conference in San Francisco.

She also took part on a plenary panel with Tia Boatman Patterson, executive director of the California Housing Finance Agency, and Ben Metcalf, director of the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Ma oversees the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (CTCAC) and the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee (CDLAC), which allocate critical low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) and tax-exempt bonds to finance affordable housing developments.

After taking office, Ma vacated the top posts at the committees and appointed one person in her office to oversee housing and economic development while looking at how CTCAC and CDLAC could better collaborate.

Ma said she’s close to hiring a new CTCAC executive director and is still looking for someone to lead CDLAC.

The changes will come at a time when the state will make a big push for more housing.

Newsom’s proposals include a $500 million expansion to the state housing tax credit, said Boatman Patterson, who also serves as the governor's senior housing adviser.

In addition, one of NCSHA’s priorities is the passage of the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Improvement Act (S. 1703 and H.R. 3077), which calls for boosting the federal LIHTC, including establishing a minimum 4% rate.  That can mean an additional $500 million per year in California, according to Boatman Patterson.

The housing leaders were recently hit with the news that the number of people who are homeless jumped by about 12% in Los Angeles County last year.  That means there’s nearly 60,000 people who are living in shelters or on the streets in that county alone.

“What’s painful is that many of these places are embracing the best practices that we know work,” Metcalf said, noting that incredible investments have been made in permanent supportive housing and other solutions.

Places in California are making all the right moves to eliminate homelessness, but there’s a flow issue, according to Metcalf.

“For every one person they’re successfully exiting out of homeless, there are two or three now who are coming in,” he said.  “That’s a function of the affordability situation, folks who are one paycheck away and then their car breaks, they lose their job, and they’re on the street.”

A focus will be to fix that affordability crisis and get more resources to the local jurisdictions, he said.

At the same time, officials acknowledged that it's going to take a lot more than financing.

The state also needs to look at land-use policies and ways to reduce regulatory barriers to residential development, said Boatman Patterson.