(The Center Square) – A bill to address California’s housing crisis by making it easier to build affordable homes in underutilized commercial zones cleared a key hurdle on Monday.
The legislation, AB 2011, creates the Affordable Housing and High Roads Jobs Act, aiming to increase housing supply across the state while also creating new construction jobs. Lawmakers in the state Assembly approved it Monday.
Under the legislation, a 100% affordable housing and mixed-income housing project could be streamlined if it meets certain location and design standards, including that the project is in an area zoned for office, retail and parking lots.
Additionally, developers building in these zones must meet certain labor standards, including that they must offer a “prevailing wage” on all projects and contract with workers who are in a state-approved apprenticeship program in projects involving 50 or more units. If no apprentice workers are available, the project can still move forward.
Supporters of the bill said advancing the legislation would address the state’s need for affordable housing while also ensuring job opportunities for construction workers.
“This bill makes it easier to build housing at scale in climate friendly locations using labor standards that would be the strongest labor standards in the country if we pass this bill,” sponsoring Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, told lawmakers on Monday.
As the bill wound its way through the Assembly, it faced opposition from trade groups representing construction workers across the state. The State Building and Construction Trades Council has voiced continuous opposition against the bill, arguing that it should require a skilled and trained workforce as defined by labor law, which would, in turn, require a “certain percentage of each construction craft and trade to be unionized unless the project is subject to a Project Labor Agreement.”
The SBCTC said that without these provisions in place, “the bill provides a path to developer profits with little protections for workers and meaningful input from community members.”
“We remain opposed to any effort that would create a statewide right to develop mostly market-rate and luxury housing without, at a very minimum, basic community protections, including the requirement to use a skilled and trained workforce and pay area prevailing wages,” the SBCTC wrote.
The bill received broad support from most lawmakers on Monday, several of whom noted that the state has several underutilized properties. At the same time, tens of thousands of homeless individuals remain on the streets.
“We can’t say we want the homeless removed from in front of businesses, from our public parks; we don’t want to build on surplus properties; we don’t want to build in commercial areas, and we certainly don’t want to build in our single family home zones,” Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Orange County, said Monday.
Other lawmakers said they would support the measure to keep the conversation going but hope modifications are made to maintain local control. Assemblymember Lori Wilson, D-Solano, a former mayor and local leader for 12 years, voiced concern about the bill “automatically taking away city’s local control, ministerial review, forever without any remediation.”
“This is putting the entire state lumped together assuming that everybody…every city is doing it wrong,” Wilson said. “And so I want to make sure we’re more nuanced and that we don’t punish cities for doing it right.”
Now that the bill has passed the Assembly, it will move to the Senate. As it works through committees, Wicks said she is committed to working with stakeholders to “make a better bill” and discuss adjustments to make the legislation stronger.