The af­ford­able-hous­ing case

A state Supreme Court rul­ing says that cities may re­quire de­vel­op­ers to in­clude low-in­come units.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

The Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court gave cities and coun­ties a pow­er­ful tool to help ad­dress the state’s af­ford­able-hous­ing cri­sis this week when it unan­i­mously up­held a San Jose law re­quir­ing de­vel­op­ers of large, for-sale residential projects to of­fer some of the units at be­low-mar­ket rates or pay into a city fund to build af­ford­able hous­ing.

Nearly 200 cities in Cal­i­for­nia have adopted so-called in­clu­sion­ary zon­ing laws sim­i­lar to San Jose’s, and they’ve op­er­ated in re­cent years un­der a cloud of un­cer­tainty as to what they could or could not de­mand of de­vel­op­ers. The rul­ing, how­ever, made clear that lo­cal gov­ern­ments have the au­thor­ity to reg­u­late the use of prop­erty through zon­ing or other land-use laws to serve the in­ter­ests of the public.

And the public has a clear in­ter­est in cre­at­ing more af­ford­able-hous­ing and mixed­in­come de­vel­op­ments, the court said. Nu­mer­ous stud­ies, re­ports and com­mis­sions have shown how the high cost of hous­ing in Cal­i­for­nia pushes fam­i­lies deeper into poverty, leav­ing lit­tle money for ed­u­ca­tion, health ex­penses and sav­ings. Those who can’t han­dle rent in­creases or who lose their apart­ments can be left home­less. Work­ers are forced to move far­ther from their jobs; their long com­mutes cre­ate traf­fic con­ges­tion and air pol­lu­tion. The high cost of hous­ing can dis­cour­age com­pa­nies from lo­cat­ing or ex­pand­ing here.

While the court’s de­ci­sion is a big vic­tory for cities strug­gling to cre­ate more af­ford­able hous­ing, it’s also an in­com­plete vic­tory, be­cause the rul­ing only ad­dressed hous­ing that is for sale. A sep­a­rate ap­pel­late court de­ci­sion that barred in­clu­sion­ary zon­ing for rental hous­ing still stands. That case was brought by down­town Los An­ge­les devel­oper Ge­of­frey H. Palmer, who wanted to build an apart­ment com­plex in a neigh­bor­hood that re­quired an af­ford­able-hous­ing set-aside. He suc­cess­fully sued the city, as­sert­ing that the man­date vi­o­lated a state law — the 1995 Costa Hawkins Rental Hous­ing Act — that lim­its rent con­trol. The law­suit ef­fec­tively par­a­lyzed Los An­ge­les, pre­vent­ing pol­i­cy­mak­ers from im­ple­ment­ing its city­wide in­clu­sion­ary zon­ing pol­icy and ham­string­ing its ef­forts to cre­ate more af­ford­able hous­ing.

The Leg­is­la­ture should re­vive a re­cent bill that would have al­lowed cities such as Los An­ge­les to re­quire af­ford­able hous­ing in new for-sale and rental de­vel­op­ments. Gov. Jerry Brown ve­toed that bill in 2013, say­ing he wanted to wait un­til the Supreme Court ruled on the sub­ject. Now it has — un­equiv­o­cally. Brown and state law­mak­ers should en­sure that cities have the full com­ple­ment of tools nec­es­sary to cre­ate the kind of hous­ing Cal­i­for­nia needs for its eco­nomic and so­cial pros­per­ity.

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