Labor Unions Obstruct CA Affordable Housing Law

Big labor appears to side with the greed of power, not the California working class in addressing the home inventory supply shortage and expensive prices.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

If you live anywhere in Southern California and currently rent or looking to buy, you know the story. We overpay to have a roof over our heads by substantial margins. That is a direct cause of long distance commuting and spread-out development which has clogged our transportation systems.

Rental rates continue grow much faster than the growth of working salaries in general, and reports are showing that this has contributed to a growth in transients. I have seen that first-hand as panhandling and encampments have grown out of control in some areas. Because of that, hotel and motel room rates have skyrocketed too as more people are priced out, even from single rooms for rent.

Governor Jerry Brown announced a proposal earlier in the summer that would address the root cause of this problem by streamlining approvals for infill developments statewide, especially those near frequent public transit routes. Under the proposed law, urban smart growth housing projects that meet general local zoning requirements and reserve some portion of the units for lower-income residents would be exempted from any additional environmental or local government review.

That would give developers the green light to better address the high demands for housing within the state without the fear of facing trivial NIMBYism or expensive frivolous CEQA lawsuits. That in turn would allow the marketplace to better compete, grow the supply of housing to meet demands which would get prices in check while expanding construction jobs. With the red tape out of the way combined with a conservative means to put more people to work, you would think that the governor's proposal or some variation of it to stimulate housing development would pass seamlessly.

Yet, the legislature would not pass the affordable housing law.

The greed of power within the state's labor union lobby combined with lawmakers on the political-left tied to their special interests blocked Brown's proposed affordable housing law. They are demanding that developers pay their workers union wages if the proposed housing developments are to be exempt from the expensive red-tape process, even though such projects will not receive a single dime from the state government.

Brown has initially indicated that he will oppose a prevailing wage requirement and he is right to do so because such a mandate would allow the government to further control non-subsidized wages in the private sector beyond the current minimum wage and overtime labor laws. Plus the mandated higher wages would stall the initiative for developers to invest because of the increased costs. In addition, a prior deal to pass the affordable housing law had already included a $400 million grant for subsidized housing; that should have been good enough to convince the legislature to pass the affordable housing law. But the labor unions are demanding even more power and the lawmakers that pander to them are siding with this greed and not for affordable housing for California workers. 

The whole point of this campaign is to get the government red tape out of the way and costs down so that the marketplace can better build infill housing in developed areas which will lower rents and per-unit purchase prices and cut down on long distance commute times. That's it.

To be fair, there is a valid argument that cities would need to spend money in order to update their general plans in order to better comply with this law as outdated plans could lead to undesirable development in some areas. Same goes for ensuring that local infrastructure and resources like water, gas and electrical supplies can handle the development. Linking all these points together via predefined land use policies will cost the cities money. Perhaps allowing the localities to tap into a portion of the $400 million grant to update their master plans could offset this issue. Plus, I don't oppose including a grace period so that cities have time to prepare. Reports show that the state is taking in comments from the local governments.

But if we as a state cannot pass a workable means taught in high school economics to address this grave housing crisis and allow developers to address the housing shortage, then We the People need to better hold the power structure to account in solving this problem.

Even the liberal Los Angeles Times editorial board which has been known to side with the political-left on many matters has actually taken an honest position on this story and not sided with the unions. When a liberal mainstream newspaper deviates from political-left ideology in an editorial, you know the issue is serious.

The hardworking people renting homes within the state have been affected by these unjustified prices for way too long, and the legislature and labor unions are doing nothing to solve this problem in an intelligent fashion. They need to knock this off and pass a law that will streamline development because in the end, the greed of power and the worship of wealth will never prevail.