CA Seeks Input for Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program

Housing and transportation advocates discuss California’s Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities guidelines, last week in Oakland. Photo: Melanie Curry

Housing advocates and local officials gathered in Oakland last week to discuss guidelines for California’s new Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program (AHSC). It was one of three packed meetings held throughout the state by the Strategic Growth Council (SGC), the state agency that oversees the AHSC, to gather input on the new program’s guidelines. 

The ASHC was created to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by fostering the development of affordable housing near transit hubs, as well as improvements to transit, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure in those areas to provide low-emission alternatives to driving. A funding stream for the program was created through a late-hour deal last month between Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators which provided $130 million in revenue from CA’s cap-and-trade program.

The $130 million, however, is a drop in the bucket for California’s affordable housing funding needs. Despite growing demand, revenue for housing subsidies was slashed heavily in recent years after Governor Brown dissolved redevelopment agencies and federal sources of affordable housing funds dried up.

If the legislature sticks to its budget bill plan, the AHSC will receive 20 percent of future cap-and-trade funds each year. This is projected to be between $600 million and $1 billion per year over the next five years, according to estimates by the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The state has requirements for how AHSC funds are spent — at least half must go towards affordable housing subsidies, and at least half must benefit disadvantaged communities. Those two categories can overlap, so that doesn’t mean 100 percent of the money is already set aside. Cities and others applying for AHSC funds will also have to demonstrate how their projects will reduce GHGs by building housing where transit, walking, and biking will be attractive options for getting around.

At last week’s meeting, SGC Executive Director Mike McCoy said the agency deliberately left open the question of what the proposed guidelines should be, to avoid influencing the discussion prematurely. SGC staff presented an overview of the program, and then workshop participants broke into brainstorming groups.

The groups discussed a wide range of topics: How can the program avoid contributing to displacement and gentrification? What can be done to preserve existing affordable housing so people are not forced to move to places that require more driving? How can driving be reduced in rural areas that lack decent transit?

Participants were still engaged in discussions after the three-hour meeting adjourned. Craig Adelman of the Low Income Investment Fund was enthusiastic about the meeting, saying the program “was a good direction for California to take in terms of leadership in this area.”

The AHSC guidelines are just taking shape, and one of its most hotly-debated issues is how to define the “disadvantaged communities” the program is required to benefit. California’s Environmental Protection Agency just released a new version of CalEnviroScreen, a tool that maps disadvantaged communities by income and air quality, but its results are controversial. To receive more public input on how to define disadvantaged communities for the purpose of spending cap-and-trade funds, the California Air Resources Board will hold public workshops next week in Fresno on August 25, Los Angeles on August 26, and Oakland on September 3.

The SGC plans to release draft AHSC guidelines in September, with another round of public comment to follow. Final guidelines will be in effect for funding solicitations expected in January 2015. Funding awards will be announced before next year’s state budget wraps up in June.

The presentation from last week’s workshop is available on the SGC website, and the public can submit comments to the SGC by emailing ahsc@sgc.ca.gov.