Affordable housing is definitely a buzzword in California these days.
Throughout the course of this year, Apple, Google, Facebook and even Airbnb invested in affordable housing in California, to name a few. It’s also been a strong topic of discussion in the presidential race.
Beyond that, in October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that caps annual rent increases to 5% plus inflation, effective in January 2020.
But will these steps have the desired effect of increasing affordable housing options in California?
To find an answer, HousingWire sat down with Kristina Lawson, a partner at California law firm Hanson Bridgett, who specializes in complex entitlement, land use, and environmental and municipal matters.
According to Lawson, 2020 could be about increased construction in the affordable housing segment, which is desperately needed.
“Based on everything we’re hearing and actually based on the legislature in California last year, I think 2020 is going to be focused, from a legal perspective, on production. So how do we actually get more units under construction,” Lawson told HousingWire.
“One just relates to removing barriers to production, including funding problems,” Lawson continued. “Entitlement problems, those sorts of things. So we think we’ll see more of that, but what I would say is 2020, hopefully, collectively is going to be a year focused on production.”
Lawson knows firsthand how difficult it can be to build affordable housing in California.
From 2010 to 2014, Lawson served on the city council and as the mayor of the city of Walnut Creek in the Bay Area of California. In her time there, Lawson said she saw issues with housing affordability first-hand, especially with location in relation to jobs.
“We need to work on our transit system to get people moving around more efficiently and effectively from home to work, so people can live in the communities they want to live in and don’t have to continue to be pushed farther and farther out of the sort of core, job center area,” Lawson said.
Lawson said there is a lack of housing production for the middle-class in the Bay Area, which isn’t getting as much attention as it should.
“There’s been this huge emphasis on the housing crisis and production across all income levels, it’s not just affordable which we know tends to have defined for income categories right but it’s market rate. It’s this missing middle housing as well and then we have truly affordable housing,” Lawson said.
“Teachers, police officers, firefighters and nurses are often used as an example of that. Missing middle housing that we’re just not producing,” Lawson said.
“And so I think there will be a continued focus on how to solve for that because there are monies available both federally statewide and locally to really target, you know, very low to extremely low-income residents,” Lawson added. Traditionally there haven’t been monies available in that missing middle.”
In all, Lawson said that 2020 will bring in more production and bring solutions in both the short-term and long-term.
“At the beginning of 2020 is really going to be about production and how to increase production I think folks think that we’ve solved for some of the other policy issues like tenant protections, etc.,” Lawson said. “And that we’re ready to take some concrete steps to increase production both in the short term and long term.”