Support Propositions 1 and 2 to help solve California’s housing shortage

Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.

The California housing market resembles a horrible game of musical chairs. The music stops at the end of each month, rents and mortgages go up, more people come into the state than we build housing for, and more people end up without a place to live. And those who do have housing are paying more for it.

But in a few weeks, when balloting starts for the November election, we can provide a partial fix for our housing problems by voting for California propositions 1 and 2.

Proposition 1, the Housing Programs and Veterans’ Loans Bond, authorizes $4 billion in bonds for veterans’ housing, low-income housing, farmworker housing, transit-oriented housing and other much needed housing.

Proposition 2, the Use Millionaire’s Tax Revenue for Homeless Prevention Housing Bonds Measure, allows the state to use revenues from Proposition 63 (a 1 percent income tax on personal income above $1 million) for up to $2 billion in revenue bonds for homelessness prevention housing for persons in need of mental health services.

Prop. 63, the Mental Health Services Act, was the brainchild of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg when he was in the California State Assembly. Since it was enacted in 2005, it has generated approximately $15 billion for badly needed mental health services. Knowing that lack of housing often makes mental health problems worse, Steinberg proposed taking a small percentage of this money and using it for supportive housing. This is a brilliant idea that has received much support. Prop. 2 will enable it to happen.

If we pass both propositions in November, we will have up to $6 billion in housing bonds to help alleviate California’s severe housing and homelessness problem. There are 2.2 million California households in need of low-income housing, and California only has 664,000 affordable rental homes. We need 1.6 million more. Obviously, propositions 1 and 2 will not come close to solving our housing problems, but they will help.

Based upon Sacramento’s percentage of the state’s population, we could receive approximately $350 million if these propositions pass. But, that money will enable much more than $350 million in housing to be built. When a developer plans a project, he or she projects out the total cost of building, the expected selling price or rents on the property and the expected profit. The developer then throws all of that into a spreadsheet, and then he or she decides if the project will pencil out.

Often, these low-income housing projects have a shortage, where the expected revenues from the project are less than the expected expense. For example, a $40 million project could come up $8 million short. This housing bond revenue can be used to make up that difference, enabling the entire housing project to move forward.

There are other steps that can help increase the amount of housing that can be built. If we can streamline the permitting process or reduce fees, more projects can be built. If we can help reduce the number of “not in my backyard” NIMBY challenges, more low-income housing projects could be built. If we could raise more local money to support low-income housing, more projects could be built.

But propositions 1 and 2 are very important first steps. Please vote for them this November. Too many Californians do not have a place to live.