LSPC and AOUON Standing Strong in the Fight for Housing Rights and Justice

By Sabina Crocette, LSPC Policy Manager

LSPC and AOUON have recently expanded our areas of focus beyond the concerns of currently and formerly incarcerated people to also include the underlying conditions that bring people into contact with the criminal legal system, including the lack of safe and affordable housing.

This legislative season brought a number of important housing bills to the forefront. Two of those that LSPC and AOUON have been working to address are AB 53 and SB 50. On Wednesday, April 24, 2019 a group of us showed up at the capitol to testify to ensure both bills address the needs of our communities.

AB 53 is sponsored by Assembly Member Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-59, South Los Angeles) and claims to create a “ban-the-box” in private housing for people with conviction histories. AB 53 was not a substantive fix to the severe problems facing our community in terms of access to housing because it did not mandate that people with conviction histories be afforded the right to housing regardless of their criminal records. Across the nation, formerly incarcerated people are 10 times as likely as others to be homeless and face enormous hurdles to get housing. AB 53 would have eliminated the question about criminal convictions on the housing application, but, once an offer of housing was to be made, an inquiry could be made into your conviction history. Under the bill, owners got legal protections against suits by third parties based on a theory of negligence in renting.

AB 53 was a modest first step. Unfortunately, the bill’s author started pushing amendments to the bill which effectively disadvantaged folks with conviction histories, shielded landlords who discriminated against those with convictions histories from suit, and, finally, provided only two days for folks to provide evidence of errors on criminal records, rehabilitation, or mitigation. We fought back against all but one of those changes. Jones-Sawyer tried to move forward with the two-day period to respond to inquiries about criminal history without our agreement or support. We mounted a campaign to withdraw support, and LSPC and AOUON members showed up at the hearing, ready to oppose unless amended, or to ask that the bill not be voted on by the Housing and Community Development Committee. Before we could stand in our truth, the bill’s author took the bill off calendar. Right now, the bill is dead.

SB 50, the single most sweeping housing bill being considered right now, will change the way development is done in California. Senator Scott Wiener (D-11, San Francisco), authored a massive bill that has been described by many as a “give-away” to developers. Under the bill, developers will have a “right” to develop in communities where there is significant public transit infrastructure, such as buses, Bart and train service. While sounding innocuous, this bill targets market rate development in the communities where Black, Brown, and very low- and moderate-income people live now, and who now are struggling to remain in their homes of many years.

A number of housing and economic justice advocates and a few of our staff at LSPC and AOUON have joined forces to take Senator Wiener to task by addressing numerous inequities in the bill and demanding the inclusion of a number of complex but crucial components. Some of the biggest concerns around affordability include the need for a value-added recapture process. That refers to new value given to developers based on the ability to build higher and denser buildings without paying more in taxes and fees to build them. Developers are allowed to keep that value and not reinvest it (recapture) into those communities through projects for low to very low- and moderate-income units.

Other areas of disagreement include:

  • the need for broader definitions of “sensitive communities,” which will give those communities more control over how developments projects are done,
  • the continued use of in-lieu of fees by developers who make promises to create units for low and very low-income people and then renege and pay a paltry fee instead and keep all of the units market rate,
  • the retention of the local planning commissions and community input into the process of development.

At the committee hearing last week, LSPC and AOUON were proud to join the group of over 200 organizations, individuals, and elected officials who spoke against the bill unless the changes we identified above take place. Ultimately, SB 50 made it out of the committee and is now going to be heard in the full Senate. The battle continues on this bill.

Kim Carter, founder of A Time for Change Foundation, once said, “We would rather die on the battlefield than stand on the sidelines or bargain away our rights before we ever fight for them.” Thanks, Ms. Kim, we couldn’t agree more. Thank you to everyone who called, wrote, or showed up to the hearing!

Join us in the fight!

Call or Send an email to Senator Wiener and the other members of the Senate Governance & Finance Committee on this Friday, Monday and/or Tuesday, and tell them:

SB 50, as currently written, doesn’t go far enough to address inequities, gentrification, and displacement, while it gives developers more and more rights and privileges to build. They will build many of us, who are Black, Brown, immigrant, and poor, out of the communities we have lived in for generations.

Please include provisions to:

  • address value-added capture,
  • better definitions of “sensitive communities” to include those already devastated by gentrification,
  • craft stronger protections and verification processes for developers to avoid building on spaces where renters have lived for the previous 7 years,
  • not eliminate or severely weaken the ability of communities where development is targeted from having a say in what their communities through the planning commission process,
  • get rid of in-lieu fees or make them completely financially undesirable to use so developers can keep their promises to build for low-, very-low, and moderate-income folks to include them in housing developments.”

We oppose the bill unless it is amended as described.”

Thank you for your support!

For more information, contact LSPC Policy Manager, Sabina Crocette:sabina@prisonerswithchildren.org / 415.625.7040