Affordable housing advocates in California are gearing up for an important year ahead. They are looking toward 2013 after a tough year in which they saw redevelopment agencies (RDAs) wiped out in a move to balance the state budget and a bill to create a permanent funding source for affordable housing die in the state Senate.
One of the key players to watch is Shamus Roller, executive director of Housing California, a leading voice on housing issues. The organization works with state lawmakers and others on housing policy and legislation. Prior to joining Housing California in 2011, Roller led the Sacramento Housing Alliance. He briefs AHF on the latest news from the state.
What will be your top priority for Housing California in 2013?
In a general sense, the priority is to get funding for affordable homes. Specifically, we will be running a housing trust fund bill again that will be called the California Homes and Jobs Act. That will be introduced in 2013, and it will look at least in the beginning very similar to the HOMeS Act that was introduced this year by state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier.
How did you get interested in affordable housing?
I started my career in services to homeless youth. My first job out of college was running a street outreach program for homeless youth in Portland, Ore., and then I ran a street outreach program and drop-in center for homeless youth in San Francisco. I was the coordinator for those programs, working for Larkin Street Youth Services. After that, I went to law school. I was interested in public policy. On a more personal level, my father is in the construction business, and my mother is a social worker. I feel like I hit the midpoint between the two.
Developers in California were dealt some big blows this year. What are advocates planning?
On redevelopment, the governor vetoed a bill (state Sen. Darrell Steinberg’s SB 1156) that would have used a lot of the tools in redevelopment law but in a more constrained way. Our hope is that the tools of redevelopment and the benefits that they have brought to housing will be reborn in some way. We’ll certainly be at the table and making sure there is a strong housing set-aside in whatever gets built out of the ashes of redevelopment. We are already working on the campaign for the permanent funding source, having launched the California Homes and Jobs Act campaign in anticipation of the bill that will be introduced next year. There are a few things that will be different in looking at 2013. First, we have started working much, much earlier to build a strong infrastructure and campaign in support of the housing trust fund bill. The other difference is the election in November. That will change the composition of both houses. This will give us a new opportunity to educate legislators about how important this is for California.
Why did affordable housing get hit so hard?
We were tied so intimately to redevelopment. While it was important to us, we weren’t always the major player. We learned that we need to do a better job talking about the benefits and what having a home means. We need to tell our stories better. We need to help residents tell their stories better. In the end, it’s not about bricks and sticks. It’s about the lives that are transformed, the benefits to neighborhoods, the benefits to other social services, and the benefits to the pocketbook of the state in the end.
What other key issue is keeping you up at night?
One issue for us is housing element enforcement and making sure that our state Housing and Community Development Department has the resources to evaluate the housing element reports that are submitted by local jurisdictions. Because of California’s landmark legislation, SB 375, state Sen. Steinberg’s bill on land use and climate change, you have a whole flood of housing elements due in the next couple of years. We want to make sure that the state can adequately review those because they are a key piece for making sure that developers have the land that they need to develop and that there aren’t too many barriers to development.
Do you see Housing California changing its direction?
In the past, we’ve focused a lot of our work in the state Capitol. We see the growing effectiveness of our community is in mobilizing our members, our friends, our allies. Our change is around that, assisting other people in going out in their districts, meeting with their legislators. That will make us stronger as an organization and make us stronger as a movement.
There has been a lot of bad news for the industry lately. Is there anything on the horizon giving you hope?
Yes. In addition to launching the California Homes and Jobs Act campaign, Gov. Brown signed six of the eight housing-related bills we support that made it to his desk.
We also made sure this year that housing is an eligible use of funds under the Integrated Services for Mentally Ill Parolees program. It’s a small amount of money in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation budget.
However, I think this is the direction in which we need to be going, securing funding for housing needs in the budget of other state programs that will work better and more efficiently when more Californians are housed.
Mentally ill formerly homeless parolees are among the highest group in recidivism rates, a really vulnerable population. Having stable housing decreases recidivism dramatically. It’s a small program, but it’s a bright light indicating some of the direction that we need to go and also how we can start to talk about the importance of having a home for so many different people in our society.