Can the Legislature solve California’s housing crisis? This lawmaker hopes to shape new policies

·3 min read

Another Bay Area Democrat will fill the coveted chair of a powerful Assembly committee tasked with passing legislation to solve California’s affordability and homelessness crises.

Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks of Oakland is considered one of the strongest housing production advocates in the Legislature, and is expected to take that perspective into her new role as chairwoman of the Housing and Community Development Committee when session resumes Jan. 3.

Since she entered the Legislature in 2019, she’s written bills to streamline and encourage the production of more “missing-middle” homes affordable to average earners, and has pushed for legislation to create a statewide rental registry to collect landlord housing data. She’s also cast votes on bills to effectively eliminate single-family zoning in California and allow for smaller apartment buildings near jobs- and transit-rich areas.

In 2020, she brought her newborn baby to the floor of the Assembly on the final night of session to vote for a bill that would have authorized more duplexes in single-family neighborhoods. That legislation died at a midnight deadline, and was reintroduced this year. Wicks again voted for the measure, which was signed into law and is expected to change the landscape of California’s historically single-family neighborhoods.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, was considering a handful of Democrats passionate about housing issues for the post after the committee’s previous chairman, David Chiu, left the Legislature to become San Francisco City Attorney in November.

“Asm. Wicks’ policy experiences, at many levels, inside and outside of government have been invaluable on the Housing Committee under its previous chair,” Rendon said in a statement. “She has the know-how to keep this committee working at the forefront of housing policy. We must keep California focused on this issue and she can do it.”

The committee has ascended to political importance in recent years as the state’s housing crunch worsens and homelessness numbers increase. During any given legislative session, its eight members weigh in on bills related to zoning, construction costs, development incentives, the environmental review process and homeless services.

As the chair, Wicks will be expected to help craft ambitious legislation that addresses some of the biggest problems Californians face.

In 2019, Chiu wrote a bill to limit how much landlords can increase rent. That same year, he helped shepherd a “just cause” eviction bill through the building, making it more difficult for landlords to throw out tenants without certain rationale.

In 2020 and 2021, Chiu negotiated with both activists and real estate groups to establish an eviction moratorium and rent relief assistance program during the pandemic.

Wicks will a lengthy to-do list. At one point this year, the median price of a single-family home skyrocketed to $827,940. Rents continue to increase, squeezing out middle- and low-income Californians from their neighborhoods and the state altogether. Though the budget each year allocates billions toward the unhoused population, more is needed to provide wraparound and mental health services for the more than 100,000 Californians who call the streets their home.

In a statement, Wicks said she was up to the task.

“We have a great deal of work to do to find solutions for one of our state’s most intractable crises, and the growing challenges of housing affordability, our homelessness epidemic, renter protections, and pathways to home ownership,“ she said. “Finding solutions to these problems has been my top priority during my time in office, and I am thrilled for the opportunity to continue this leadership as the next Chair of the Committee on Housing and Community Development. I stand ready to lead with bold action on housing policy, working collaboratively with Speaker Rendon, his team and a diverse range of stakeholders to push for housing production, and to help empower the Legislature to reimagine housing in California. I appreciate the vote of confidence from the Speaker as we tackle the monumental issues at the forefront of Californians’ minds.”

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