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A bill to create a new affordable housing agency in Los Angeles just cleared a major hurdle in Sacramento

In Los Angeles, we have government agencies that oversee water and power, public health, parks, and more. Soon we may have an agency dedicated to affordable housing.

The idea came closer to reality on Wednesday, when the California State Assembly approved SB 679, which would create a new regional government entity called the Los Angeles County Affordable Housing Solutions Agency (LACAHSA).

The Assembly was seen as the bill’s biggest hurdle. The state Senate passed the bill last year. With Assembly approval, the bill now returns to the Senate for what should be a quick final approval. Then it would take Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature to become law.

Currently, dozens of state, county and local governments share responsibility for addressing Los Angeles’ worsening housing crisis. State Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) said the goal of her bill is to centralize affordable housing funding and preservation efforts in LA County.

“No city can or should solve this challenge on its own,” Kamlager said in an email. “Los Angeles is made up of 88 cities and the county, and all of them lack a clear, focused, and integrated countywide approach.”

As rents continue to soar and homelessness worsens throughout Los Angeles, local governments have been under pressure to develop solutions to the area’s housing crisis. Some elected officials have responded by proposing new watchdog departments and positions, like LA County’s plan to rise a brand new agency for the homeless.

SB 679 would bring another government agency onto the scene. Proponents — including homeless service providers, tenant groups and cities such as Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Monica — say LACAHSA won’t just add another layer of bureaucracy. They argue that a dedicated countywide department would be able to bring new tax measures to voters and raise funds to support the development and preservation of affordable housing.

At an event in Baldwin Park earlier this month in support of the bill, Baldwin Park Mayor Emmanuel Estrada said small towns like his cannot tackle the housing crisis in the city alone. region.

“We hope it gives that opportunity for other cities to join us and what we’re trying to accomplish, because it’s a regional issue,” Estrada said. “We need everyone to do their part.”

Proponents of new housing development often point out that in many parts of LA County, affordable apartments simply cannot be built in many areas because cities zoned the vast majority of their residential land for single-family homes.

For example, Baldwin Park reserves 81% of its residential lots for single-family homes, according to a recent study from the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley.

Estrada said he hopes LACAHSA will help towns like Baldwin Park develop policies — such as zoning updates — that can be adopted across the region to spur new affordable housing.

“Zoning codes everywhere, not just Baldwin Park, are outdated,” he said. “It is time for zoning codes to be changed and redesigned. One of the issues is funding, and we don’t have the money to do that.

The bill is opposed by homeowners’ groups, professional organizations and real estate agents. Anthony Vulin, president of the Greater LA Realtors Association, said his organization opposes the bill because of concerns that LACAHSA will fund its efforts through new homeowner taxes.

“We’re afraid this will make home ownership less affordable,” Vulin said. “I think there has to be another way to raise money.”

To be clear, the current bill would not increase homeowners’ taxes. Legislative analysts estimate that it would cost the state general fund at least $1 million per year to provide the initial endowment and start-up resources for LACAHSA. Additional funding would depend on revenue-generating proposals the agency places on the ballot.

LACAHSA supporters believe voters would be eager to fund more affordable housing for low-income residents and the thousands of Angelenos who fall into homelessness every year.

“We just don’t have enough affordable housing in LA County to reduce the homelessness crisis,” said Katie Tell, director of external affairs at LA homeless service provider PATH. “SB 679 is a critical step in helping us develop and build the affordable homes we need.”

What questions do you have about housing in Southern California?