San Jose lawmaker’s social housing bill advances
State Assemblymember Alex Lee advocating for health care for part-time and full-time faculty members as a part of Campus Equity Week at Mission Community College on Oct. 27, 2022. Photo courtesy of Alex Lee's office.

    A bill to establish affordable housing in California is making its way through the state Senate after a successful committee vote—but not without revisions.

    Assembly Bill 309, also referred to as the Social Housing Act, is authored by San Jose Assemblymember Alex Lee. The bill proposes social housing, a technique brought to fame by countries such as Austria and Singapore, which would enable California to build housing on state property and lease it to residents in the area. It passed the state Senate Committee on Governance and Finance earlier this week and moves on to the Committee on Appropriations.

    Social housing has been a goal of Lee’s for at least two years. He first proposed a social housing bill back in 2021, but did not have a source of funding for the project at the time. Now, he is ready to finally push the bill through as a viable solution to the housing crisis plaguing Santa Clara County and the rest of the state.

    “Publicly developed, maintained and owned housing for Californians of all socioeconomic levels is the key to solving our housing crisis,” Lee said in May. “The state is already getting in the business of housing, but we lack a focused state public developer to do it at scale.”

    Under AB 309, the government would own and manage the properties while residents from all socioeconomic backgrounds would be allowed to apply for housing. The bill is working to address California’s increasingly alarming cost of living and notes that more than two in five Californians spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

    Lee said the bill aims to cap rent for residents at 30% of their income, but that the legislation must be “flexible” due to projects having varying locations and sizes. It envisions proprietors working with renters of different incomes to achieve the goal of ensuring all of the money the state puts into the buildings will come back through rent to maintain the properties.

    The new bill previously stated the funding would come directly from the California State Treasury, but due to revisions, funding for the bill now remains unclear and no funding path has yet been determined. Lee said the amended bill’s fiscal impact is still being evaluated.

    “The Department of General Services has an existing program similar to the model we are proposing, and they received additional funding through this year’s budget to operate and manage their program,” he said.

    Data shows 34% of Californians report they are considering moving out of state due to unaffordable housing, according to a 2023 report by the Public Policy Institute of California.

    “According to the American Community Survey, from 2010 through 2021 about 7.7 million people moved from California to other states, while only 5.8 million people moved to California from other parts of the country,” the report said.

    The proposed legislation has received mixed reviews from the community, as some residents remark it as “ridiculous.” One such comment said it’s a step toward “socialism.” Others, though, say it will help and might be the change the state is looking for.

    “As someone who builds homes, I am also someone who has experienced the burden and struggle of finding affordable and adequate housing,” Luis Romo, a California renter who works in the construction industry, said at this week’s committee hearing. “Our current system of housing production falls short in meeting the needs of Californians.”

    Contact Madison Wilber at minute[email protected] or follow @minutewithmadison on Instagram.

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