By Toni McAllister
The 2011 death of California’s redevelopment agencies was an enormous setback for cities like San Diego, according to several Democratic lawmakers who have co-authored a bill to reinvent the state program that once provided billions of dollars annually for economic development and low-income housing.
Introduced last month, AB 3037 aims to let localities establish “redevelopment housing and infrastructure agencies” to fund affordable housing and infrastructure projects in California.
The bill’s authors say it is the most far-reaching effort to reinvent redevelopment agencies since the program’s 2011 demise.
The end of redevelopment “left local jurisdictions without a powerful community development tool that provided more affordable housing, infrastructure improvements, and local jobs,” said Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego), one of the bill’s backers. “I believe this is a tool we must bring back if we truly want to fix California’s affordable housing crisis.”
During the depth of California’s budget crisis, Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated redevelopment agencies that were required to fund affordable housing. Ever since, lawmakers have tried and failed to bring the program back.
According to backers of the new legislation, California’s housing crisis has reached an “unprecedented level” and homelessness is on the rise.
The state has passed some new affordable housing financing measures and tax increment funding tools, “but none of them are as robust as RDAs were,” the bill’s backers say.
“We are in the midst of the worst housing crisis California has ever seen, and we lost $1 billion of annual investment in affordable housing when redevelopment went away,” said Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), who co-authored the bill. “AB 3037 is about making a serious and lasting commitment to fund affordable housing and ensuring Californians who are struggling can afford to live in our state.”
Critics of the old RDA program complained of spending abuses, but backers of the new bill say it establishes requirements to ensure money spent is targeted and closely monitored.
“The process of dissolving RDAs exposed egregious and often bizarre abuses of how the agencies spent the funding. To ensure funding generated through RHIAs is not vulnerable to the same types of frivolous uses, AB 3037 puts a number of safeguards in place, including strong anti-displacement policies, detailed record-keeping requirements, independent annual audits, and harsh financial penalties for record-keeping or audit violations,” a statement from Gloria’s office read.
“Unlike the previous system, AB 3037 will allow counties as well as cities to create RHIAs,” the statement continued.
RHIAs will have to be approved by the Department of Finance and will be required to set aside 30 percent of funding for the “creation, improvement, and rehabilitation of affordable housing,” according to the statment.
The amount of taxpayer dollars the state would invest in RHIAs will be capped, according to Gloria’s office.
But if others have failed in attempting to recreate RDAs, what makes the bill’s authors think it can be done this time around? For starters, California’s finances have greatly improved, and Brown is on his way out. Meanwhile, several of his would-be successors — Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villaraigosa and John Chiang — have gone on record in support of resurrecting RDAs.
“We would love to work with this governor on it,” Chiu told the Los Angeles Times. “But if it’s not meant to be by the time we’re able to get something to the governor’s desk, we want to be able for the next governor to move quickly.”
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