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How do California Senate candidates plan on tackling housing affordability?

How do California Senate candidates plan on tackling housing affordability?

Teresa Ramos’ day starts at the crack of dawn when many in the American workforce are still sound asleep. She’s out the door by 6 a.m., and when the days are shorter, that’s before the sun. 

Ramos, a patient biller at the UC Irvine Medical Center, lives in Mira Loma in Riverside County with her parents and two children. For eight years, she’s been making the 80-mile round-trip trek to Anaheim that could take up to two hours one way when traffic is bad — which frequent 91 Freeway travelers know can be often.

“Two hours in the morning; two hours in the evening,” Ramos said. “I spend half a day of work in traffic.”

Ramos’ story is not unique. For many other Californians, union leaders say, living near their place of work is not an option because few can afford a place close to their jobs.

To make matters worse for UC workers like Ramos, campuses and medical centers are often located in cities with some of the highest housing costs in the state, according to a report released in June by researchers for Ramos’ union. The average cost of living in counties with a UC campus is 47% higher than the national average, the report states. 

And after a year of workers’ strikes across the Golden State, housing affordability and other labor-related issues have taken center stage as key election issues in California’s U.S. Senate race.

We spoke to the candidates who have, thus far, declared their candidacy for the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein‘s seat about these issues. Here is a brief roundup of their positions.

Adam Schiff, Democrat

Rep. Adam Schiff believes the federal government should foremost revisit its housing policies. “We just have kind of a haphazard approach to housing which isn’t cutting it,” he said.

For starters, the Burbank Democrat said the federal government needs to increase federal financial assistance, such as grants directed to states, by “hundreds of billions” of dollars to build affordable housing and expand low-income housing tax credits, an incentive to build affordable rental housing for low-income households.

“We have a major supply problem. There’s just not enough low-income, certainly not enough affordable, housing,” Schiff said. “Tax credits are a really useful way of addressing that.” 

Schiff, 63, also wants to see the federal government expand the availability of low-interest loans to build affordable multifamily housing in California. 

Barbara Lee, Democrat

At a recent town hall, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said California has not kept up with inflation and the cost of living. The federal government, she said, could invest in various affordable housing strategies to mitigate the situation.

One such strategy, Lee said, is outlined in a bill she introduced earlier this year called the Deposit Act. Housing policy in the U.S. has largely been left to state and local governments, but under Lee’s legislation, the federal government would expand the Section 8 housing choice voucher program and help those in the program cover their security deposits and moving costs. The bill has not been heard in a committee yet. 

“Oftentimes workers don’t have the money to put down for a house or an apartment,” Lee, 77, said. “And so why don’t we have HUD establish a revolving fund so that workers can access this fund for deposits for a place to live?”

Christina Pascucci, Democrat

Christina Pascucci, a former KTLA reporter and recent entrant into the race, believes the housing shortage is a public safety issue.

“It exacerbates the homelessness crisis when you don’t have places where people can afford to live,” she said. “It’s also a public safety issue when you have first responders that are forced to live out of state because it’s cheaper just to fly to California and afford a home in another state. What if there’s a wildfire that erupts? It’s all hands on deck.”

Orange County Fire Authority officials estimate the number of its force that live out of the state to be 60 out of 1,100. In nearby Los Angeles, 160 firefighters of its 3,000-plus workforce live outside of the state, according to The Guardian.

Pascucci, 38, said she witnessed the affordable housing crisis firsthand when she was out in the field reporting. 

“I was doing wildfire training with the Orange County Fire Authority recently when I was still at my job,” Pascucci said. “One firefighter told me an estimated 15 to 20 firefighters that he knows off the top of his head are living out of state — not even just a several-hour commute but out of state — because that is how dire our affordable housing crisis has become.” 

“This absolutely needs to be addressed, and quickly,” she said. “So I’m for all of the above approaches when it comes to affordable housing, workforce housing and market-rate housing.” 

At the federal level, Pascucci said she would push for the federal government to fund building workforce housing — middle or moderate-income housing — for teachers, police, firefighters and other first responders as well as introduce legislation that helps affordable housing projects get off the ground at a faster pace.

Eric Early, Republican

Republicans in the race, including attorney and businessman Eric Early, have concerns about the federal government upping its spending. While affordable housing is a top issue, he said “cutting checks” will make the situation worse.

“One thing we can’t do is keep sending money from a government that has no money,” said Early. “What ends up happening is everybody’s taxes go up and inflation increases.”

But Early said he supports loosening regulations to make it easier to build affordable housing. The cost to build a house in California comes with a price tag higher than elsewhere in the country, even before a nail is banged into the first two-by-four, he said. 

Early pointed to legislation signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September as part of the chief executive’s housing package. The measure streamlines affordable housing production by exempting local governments from a provision in California’s Environmental Quality Act that requires affordable housing proposals funded by local municipalities to go through an additional review of the project’s environmental impact, unlike state-funded projects, which undergo just one.

“CEQA must be changed because it was being used to often extort builders and developers, and all of that ends up getting passed to the consumer,” Early, 64, said. “This exemption will decrease costs to build affordable homes.”

Katie Porter, Democrat

Rep. Katie Porter from Irvine has repeatedly stated that housing affordability is her No. 1 issue.

Porter, 49, said she would push, as a senator, for legislation to have the federal government fully fund Section 8 vouchers for low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities. That includes the Housing Choice Voucher Program, the largest federally funded housing program in Orange County that provides rental assistance to qualified tenants, she said.

“For healthcare, everyone who qualifies for Medi-Cal is able to get it,” Porter said. “We need to do the same thing with regard to housing vouchers.” 

Porter would also like to see the low-income housing tax credit, which she described as the “best and most effective program” to build affordable housing, quadruple.

Lexi Reese, Democrat

Lexi Reese, a former Google executive, wants to take a slightly different approach in her plan to “house every person in California.”

As a senator, she said she would propose legislation that would give tax credits to businesses that invest in their employees by way of paying them a living wage and providing them with job training, childcare expenditures, healthcare and transportation credits to get from their home to their place of work. To qualify, businesses would have to spend these funds on workers who earn below a given threshold. 

Businesses that don’t abide by this would have to pay a fine that would subsidize tax credits for those that are, Reese, 48, said.

She is calling it the “Human Capital Tax Credit Bill” and is loosely basing it on previous legislation from Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, that died in the previous Congress.

A short-term solution, though, would be to make commuting free for workers providing essential services, including teachers and healthcare workers, Reese said, which can come in the form of free mass transit or a transportation credit card. 

Steve Garvey, Republican

Former Dodgers star Steve Garvey has pledged to run on a platform focusing on quality-of-life issues, including the cost of living and housing affordability.

When pressed for specific policy proposals he has to mitigate the housing affordability crisis, Garvey, 74, opted to talk broadly about the economy, which he said is the overarching issue. 

Garvey said the economy must recover before more money is spent on housing.

“I would heavily focus on getting our economy back,” Garvey said. “Let’s cut back taxes; let’s get cash flow involved again. Let’s get to where people are not losing $800, $900 a month and $10,000 a year because of inflation.”

Though California rent increases are slowing down, residents of the Golden State on average pay 43% more than the nationwide norm. This summer, Orange County was the second costliest county in the state for renters with the average rent hovering around $2,638 a month. 


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