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The Lookout: New Cal Housing Bills Could Change the Look, Feel of Your Neighborhood

But lawmakers disagree about whether the bills would make housing more affordable or cause a host of other issues for the state’s single-family household neighborhoods that so many California homeowners appreciate.

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Row of Houses, Photo Courtesy of California Black Media

California, known for its sprawling residential neighborhoods of single-family homes spread out with driveways, front yards and garages, even in urban areas, may soon get an architectural makeover. That’s if two new bills approved by the Legislature and awaiting the governor’s signature are signed into law.

Both Senate Bill (SB) 9 and Senate Bill (SB) 10 are legislative responses to California’s twin crises — the lack of affordable housing and an overall shortage of homes.

But lawmakers disagree about whether the bills would make housing more affordable or cause a host of other issues for the state’s single-family household neighborhoods that so many California homeowners appreciate.

SB 9, authored by California’s Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D- San Diego), would allow homeowners in single-family households to have up to four housing units on their property.  SB 10 would allow cities and counties to bypass the usual environmental review process for projects or developments with a maximum of 10 units in urban areas.

“Growing up, my family moved between rentals — some better than others, but none of them ‘ours.’ Even though my mom and dad clocked into honest jobs their whole lives, the idea that the Atkins family could own a home of our own was hardly a goal. It was a far-off fantasy,” said Atkins late last month after the Senate approved SB 9.

“Today, too many hard-working California families are saying the same. With SB 9, we have the chance to change that,” Atkins continued. “This bill would give homeowners the tools to help ease our state’s housing shortage while creating a new source of income in their own backyard. It would allow our communities to welcome new families to the neighborhood and help more folks set foot on the path to buying their first home.”

But, in cities and neighborhoods across the state, there has been strong and vocal opposition to SB 9 and SB 10. Organizations like the League of California Cities claim SB 9 would actually be detrimental to affordable housing without the appropriate safeguards.

“The Planning and Zoning Law provides for the creation of accessory dwelling units by local ordinance, or, if a local agency has not adopted an ordinance, by ministerial approval, in accordance with specified standards and conditions,” the local governance advocacy association wrote in an opposition letter.

“This bill, among other things, would require a proposed housing development containing no more than two residential units within a single-family residential zone to be considered ministerially, without discretionary review or hearing, if the proposed housing development meets certain requirements,” the letter continued.

However, California Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY), a pro-affordable housing organization, argues that SB 9 is precisely what California residents need, especially following a pandemic.

“California has a severe shortage of middle-income housing, or small (fewer than 10 homes) multi-family housing developments near jobs and transit; the lack of such housing is driving the displacement and severe rent burden of Californians across the state. The problem: it is illegal to build middle-income housing in over 70% of the state,” the organization’s website states.

“SB 9 would legalize this middle-income housing by adopting best practices from housing experts at the University of California Los Angeles. It will also help California respond to historic job loss in the construction sector and a 45% decrease in home construction due to COVID-19,” the statement continues.

There has been significant opposition to SB 10 as well. Many of its critics feel it is a shallow solution to a complex problem.

“While the intent of providing more housing may be good, these bills and approach are highly problematic. It poses a one-size-fits-all solution and a blunt, statewide fix that would outstrip local authority and planning. It also does not recognize the diversity of communities and development statewide, let alone throughout Greater Los Angeles,” the Los Angeles Conservancy wrote in an opposition statement.

Both SB 9 and SB 10 have passed in the State Senate and are now awaiting final approval from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has until October 10 to sign or veto these bills.

Meanwhile, in the California State Assembly, Assembly Bill (AB) 1199 imposes an excise tax on landlords as a way to disincentivize them from buying foreclosed or under-market value homes in order to make a massive profit from these homes by using them as rental properties.

AB 1199 author Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson) claims that this bill could help build generational wealth for low-income families.

“First-time homebuyers and working families lack opportunities to own homes and build generational wealth,” Gipson stated.

“AB 1199 corrects the excessive practice of corporations buying up foreclosed or under market value homes in order to profit from increasingly inflated rents. The state would impose an excise tax on large corporations that own and rent out 10 or more properties. The bill would create a fund from the taxes to support first time homebuyer education, down payment assistance programs and rental assistance for low-income families,” he continued.

The Assembly has not yet voted on AB 1199.

Community

Longtime Landlords to Pay City $3.9 Million for Tenants’ Rights Violations

Parker’s office said the Manns subjected tenants at the six properties to serious health and safety risks. The defendants rented properties in substandard condition, including properties neither intended nor approved for housing, the city attorney’s office said.  

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Permanent Supportive Housing for former homeless people in San Francisco.

Two rental property owners and/or their companies will pay the city of Oakland more than $3.9 million for violating the rights of tenants, Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker’s Office announced Monday.

The city of Oakland sued Baljit Singh Mann and Surinder Mann and two of their companies Dodg Corporation and Sbmann2, LLC, according to court documents in the matter.

An Alameda County Superior Court decision September 1 following a trial, forces the defendants to also provide relocation payments to tenants displaced unlawfully from six rental properties, which were at issue in the case brought by the city.

Parker’s office said the Manns subjected tenants at the six properties to serious health and safety risks. The defendants rented properties in substandard condition, including properties neither intended nor approved for housing, the city attorney’s office said.

The defendants rented the six properties to people who were predominantly low-income immigrants and some who did not speak English as their first language, according to Parker’s office.

But following a trial that started in April and the judge’s September 1 decision, the Manns now must comply with health, safety, and tenant protection laws regarding all their properties and pay the city and former tenants, Parker’s office said.

“Victory in this case means that tenants in Oakland do not have to choose between their fundamental rights and having a roof over their head at any cost,” City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement.

“Tenants’ rights do matter–to the city, to the people, and to the courts,” Parker said. “No longer will businesses like Dodg. Corporation be able to run roughshod over the people relying on them for shelter, and no longer will landlords feel the same impunity to outright ignore their legal obligations under our local laws.”

The Manns for years owned and operated about 60 residential rental properties in Oakland and owned 70 or more other properties in the city, according to Parker’s office.

City attorneys said the model used by the Manns and at least two of their companies allowed them to profit through renting dilapidated and uninhabitable units to people who were desperate for affordable housing and would be unable to defend their rights as tenants.

The fire risk in some units was severe and imminent, according to the City Attorney’s office.
Parker’s office said the Manns violated the law even further by failing to make relocation payments to tenants who were displaced because their units were unsafe to live in.

Judge Brad Seligman held in his State of Decision, that the Manns and their companies named in the lawsuit, violated Oakland’s Tenant Protection Ordinance, did so in bad faith, and created a public nuisance, according to Parker’s office.

Three attempts to reach Baljit Singh Mann on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

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Community

About $200 Million Becomes Available to Bay Area for More Homekey Projects

Earlier this year, Newsom signed a housing and homelessness funding package that provided $12 billion to alleviate homelessness in the state.

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Tents under the Guadalupe Freeway near San Jose Diridon Station, in San Jose on May 25, 2021. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

Bay Area cities, counties, tribal entities, and housing authorities have the chance this year to apply for an estimated $200 million in grant funds for housing the unhoused following the release of $1.45 billion by the state Thursday.

More money will likely be available next year as part of the state’s overall $2.75 billion expansion package for the Homekey program, which provides money to rehabilitate hotels, motels, and other buildings to provide homes for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The money will allow for the creation of up to 14,000 more permanent, long-term housing units for unhoused Californians or those facing homelessness in the state.

“California is moving with unprecedented speed to house people experiencing homelessness, through Homekey,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “We are going all in on solutions that work — tackling the homelessness crisis head-on with a constructive, compassionate approach and a focus on serving those with the most acute behavioral health needs.”

According to county counts of people suffering from homelessness in 2019, more than 26,000 lived in the Bay Area. According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, roughly 162,000 Californians were experiencing homelessness on any given day as of January 2020.

About 52,000 of those were individuals suffering from chronic homelessness, which is homelessness for a year or longer or someone who has a disability and has had at least four bouts of homelessness in three years.

Homekey has been successful in the Bay Area. In Oakland, for example, a college residence hall was rehabilitated for formerly homeless residents, opening around Christmastime last year.

The project was completed more quickly than some people thought possible. Newsom has touted the speed at which Homekey projects are done.

Since July 2020, Homekey has led to the creation of 6,000 affordable housing units statewide, according to Newsom’s office. Ninety-four projects across the state closed escrow last year, the governor’s office said.

Earlier this year, Newsom signed a housing and homelessness funding package that provided $12 billion to alleviate homelessness in the state.

“This administration has set a goal of functionally ending family homelessness in five years, and that’s why investments in programs like Homekey are so critical,” said Gustavo Velasquez, director of the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, in a statement.

But Newsom is facing a recall. Election Day is Tuesday. The $12 billion homelessness package was part of his California Comeback Plan, which aims to reverse the effects the COVID-19 pandemic on the state’s economy. Newsom has faced criticism by some over the way he has handled the state’s response to the pandemic.

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Community

City Wins Case Against Local Real Estate Empire for Systemic Tenants’ Rights Violations

The September 1 decision represents a significant triumph for the city in a case brought several years ago against the owners of a prominent local real estate empire for systematically violating the rights of tenants at buildings their family companies own. 

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Barbara Parker

Alameda County Superior Court issued its final Statement of Decision and Permanent Injunction After Trial in People of the State of California and the City of Oakland v. Dodg Corporation, et al., a major win for the city in a case against a local real estate empire for systemic tenants’ rights violations.

The September 1 decision represents a significant triumph for the city in a case brought several years ago against the owners of a prominent local real estate empire for systematically violating the rights of tenants at buildings their family companies own. 

Not only must the defendants now comply with tenant protection and health and safety laws at all of their properties, but they owe the city and their former tenants significant redress, including financial penalties to the city and compensation to tenants, for their years of unlawful activity.

Said City Attorney Barbara Parker, “Victory in this case means that tenants in Oakland do not have to choose between their fundamental rights and having a roof over their head at any cost. No longer will businesses like Dodg Corporation be able to run roughshod over the people relying on them for shelter, and no longer will landlords feel the same impunity to outright ignore their legal obligations under our local laws.”

When the City Attorney’s Office brought the Dodg Corp. case in 2019, Oakland had long been facing an unprecedented housing crisis. By 2019, the housing crisis was disproportionately impacting low-income households, with nearly half of rental households in Oakland being rent-burdened (i.e., the household spends over 30% of its gross monthly income on rent).

Because of the skyrocketing rents, many low- and middle-income Oakland residents lived and still live under threat of displacement.

Prior to filing the case, the City Attorney’s Office had already worked with members of the City Council and the Mayor’s Office to pass various important laws focusing on protecting Oakland residents, particularly low- and middle-income residents. 

The City Attorney’s Office worked closely with the Council to adopt the Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO) in 2014, which was amended in 2020 to strengthen the TPO’s protections. But for some abusive landlords, neither the 2014 TPO nor its recent amendments were enough to stop their illegal activities.

For years, the defendants in the Dodg Corp. case owned and operated approximately 60 residential rental properties in the City of Oakland (and owned at least 70 more properties in the city). The lawsuit addressed their flagrant disregard for the letter and spirit of the law with respect to six specific rental properties, where the defendants subjected Oakland residents to grave health and safety risks. 

The owners’ activities included renting units in substandard conditions — including units never intended or approved for residential use — to tenants who were predominantly low-income immigrants, among them tenants whose primary language is not English. 

This predatory business model allowed the owners to profit from renting uninhabitable or dilapidated units, including units that posed severe and imminent fire risks, to tenants who were desperate to find affordable housing and who often lacked the resources to take legal action to defend their rights. 

When tenants were displaced from their homes because their units were so unsafe, the owners further violated the law by neglecting to make relocation payments required by local law, according to a media release from the City Attorney’s Office. 

The case went to trial in early April of this year. In its September 1 decision, the court held that the defendant corporate entities and individual defendants Baljit Singh Mann and Surinder K. Mann exhibited a pattern and practice of violating the Tenant Protection Ordinance, and did so in bad faith, and that they created a public nuisance.

The verdict requires that defendants pay the City over $3.9 million in civil penalties for their egregious violations of tenants’ rights. Defendants must also provide long-overdue relocation payments to the dozens of tenants unlawfully displaced from the six properties at issue in this case. 

Going forward, defendants also may not operate any of their Oakland-owned residential properties in violation of local or state laws. This means the owners must promptly and competently address existing and future violations that jeopardize the well-being of their tenants.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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