Talks stall on $400 million in California affordable housing

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California’s Assembly speaker conceded defeat Thursday on negotiations over a plan to inject $400 million into affordable housing projects, a deal that was included in the $122 billion budget compromise legislative leaders negotiated with Gov. Jerry Brown¬†this spring.

The funding was contingent on lawmakers approving Brown’s controversial “by right” housing proposal to speed approval for developments that include affordable units. The proposal would give automatic approval to projects that meet existing zoning requirements and set aside at least one-fifth of the units for low-income residents. Developments near transit stops would need to set aside at least 10 percent of units.

Brown’s proposal was aimed at quickly increasing the supply of housing. But it left some neighborhood activists furious at the prospect of losing a voice in approving construction that they fear will change the character of their communities, and it angered some labor unions.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, said “I believe it’s over.”

“It’s my understanding that there haven’t been discussions in at least two weeks,” he said. California’s legislative year ends Aug. 31, so any compromise must be approved by lawmakers before then.

He added in an interview with The Sacramento Bee that linking the funding “has sort of backed us into a corner.”

Housing groups announced last week that they were walking away from talks with the Democratic governor. In a letter this week, they urged Brown, Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, to provide the $400 million anyway.

“With little time remaining in the Legislative session and no real prospect of a deal, we must ask you to release the funds. Please do not penalize our state’s most vulnerable residents for the failure to reach agreement on the streamlining proposal,” said the letter signed by officials from more than two dozen community and social justice groups.

The budget deal says that if no agreement is reached, the Legislature can devote the money to other priorities, but lawmakers would still need the governor’s sign-off. Rendon said he would like to commit at least $150 million to affordable housing.

A spokesman for Brown, Evan Westrup, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. A spokesman for de Leon, Anthony Reyes, declined to comment.

Rendon’s declaration Thursday marks the latest concession in a string of legislative letdowns this year. Leaders have already lowered expectations on reaching a deal to extend California’s climate change mandate to lower carbon emissions through 2030, which was to have been one of the Legislature’s signature accomplishments this year. They also again failed to reach consensus on funding for a backlog of billions in needed road repairs.

Brown’s willingness to spend heavily on housing was seen as a notable concession for a governor who has been both skeptical of the value of housing subsidies and eager to save for a recession he warns is coming.

There was wide opposition to Brown’s proposal from dozens of worker, immigrant, environmental and tenant groups throughout California. They say forcing development “by right” is deeply undemocratic, giving real estate interests too much power over vulnerable residents who could see their homes razed for retail centers that lack sufficient affordable housing units.

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