SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Despite record-low unemployment and a vigorous economy, working-class Californians feel the pinch from spiking housing prices – making new affordable housing a central tenet of the November election.
“Parts of this state are in real crisis and I think we have an obligation to be bold, be audacious and to be aggressive,” said California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Speaking to the state’s leading housing authorities and agencies, six gubernatorial candidates on Thursday promised a housing boom largely through easing regulations and billions in new subsidies.
Newsom is calling for 3.5 million new California homes by 2025, a much higher target than most of his opponents. He supports a $4 billion housing bond already on the November ballot and wants to create incentives to encourage cities and developers to ramp up production.
The former San Francisco mayor says the state should also place a larger burden on cities and counties to follow through on their housing plans and goals.
“Mayors may claim they care about housing but mayors really care about retail, because [retailers] capture sales tax,” Newsom told the crowd of housing industry advocates. “You’ve got to hold mayors accountable to their general plans and housing goals.”
The Democratic candidates uniformly support a November ballot measure to authorize $4 billion in general obligation bonds for new affordable housing and veterans housing loans.
State Treasurer John Chiang pushed the number higher, saying that if he’s elected he will ask for $9 billion more in housing subsidies.
“$4 billion is not enough. We need to make sure that we have a sustained funding source,” Chiang said of reaching his goal of 1.6 million new homes over the next 10 years.
The two Republican candidates, Assemblyman Travis Allen and San Diego businessman John Cox, veered from the housing bond, shedding most of the blame for the housing crisis on decades of failing Democratic leadership and strict development and environmental regulations.
Allen set a more conservative goal of 1 million new housing units during his first term. He says slashing taxes, reforming the California Environmental Quality Act and appointing pro-housing commissioners to state agencies will “allow millennials to move out of their parents’ homes.”
“The answer is not taxing Californians more so they can subsidize, the answer is taxing Californians less, cutting red tape and bureaucracy and all of these excessive regulations so that homebuilders are actually incentivized to build in California again,” Allen said.
The California Republican Assembly endorsed Allen last week, but he is still polling well behind front-runners Newsom and former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villariagosa. Newsom has the deepest war chest and leads Villaraigosa by two points, according to a poll released earlier this month by the Public Policy Institute of California.
Along with opposing housing new housing subsidies, Cox said he would attempt to eliminate CEQA entirely. He painted himself as an outsider, saying that his more politically experienced opponents wouldn’t meet their housing promises.
“I look at a boom in housing as a silver bullet, as a virtuous circle upward for the state,” Cox said. “Housing to me is the singular issue.”
Last month the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office said in a report that California lost 1 million residents to domestic migration from 2007 to 2016. Statewide, median home prices have increased $120,000 over the last three years; in Southern California the median price is over $500,000.
With nearly 20 percent of Californians living near the poverty line according to the Public Policy Institute of California – the highest in the nation – owning a home is unattainable for many in the nation’s most populous state.
Candidate Delaine Eastin, a former assemblywoman and state superintendent of public instruction, said a “full-court press” is needed to fight poverty and build homes.
She painted the 3.5 million housing goals Newsom and Villaraigosa are pushing as unrealistic and said the state would benefit by forcing the reassessment of property values.
Villaraigosa closed the event, which featured 15-minute conversations with Sacramento Bee reporter Angela Hart, by supporting relaxed CEQA requirements for affordable housing projects. He says creating regional housing trust funds and helping homeowners to build “granny flats” could also alleviate the housing shortage.