New Assembly Housing Committee Chairperson Buffy Wicks, right, watches a vote tally on an affordable housing financing bill with former Chairperson David Chiu on September 12, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

published on February 3, 2022 - 11:57 AM
Written by Gabriel Dillard

New year, new leader of the California Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee.

The chairperson shapes all housing-related legislation at the state Capitol, and when David Chiu took a new job as the San Francisco city attorney last November, the role became vacant. It has now been filled by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, a Democrat from Oakland.

To kick off the new legislative session, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon invited Wicks to discuss her priorities in the latest installment of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast.”

“We just did a big housing tour in the fall across the state,” Wicks said, “and I think some of the main things that we found that I plan on working on along with some of my colleagues: One, there was a constant drumbeat of a need for a dedicated continued long-term funding source for affordable housing.”

Another budget priority: more rent relief dollars, which were absent from the budget proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom this week. While the state requested $1.9 billion from the federal government, it received only $62 million in a recent fund reallocation.

“We have to keep people housed,” she said. “That is like, non-negotiable.”

Homeownership opportunities for lower-income people of color and tenant protections are also at the top of her legislative agenda to address the California housing crisis. While no big zoning bills are on the docket yet – the single-family zoning bill approved last year was “a big lift for a lot of people,” Wicks said – she plans to “be a big supporter of that type of policymaking.”

Wicks said she was concerned about a potential constitutional amendment for the November 2022 ballot to reassert local control over zoning and land-use decisions.

“My hope is that it doesn’t make it onto the ballot, we’ll see,” she said. “But if it does, I think we need to fight it at every turn.”

“I heard this in the L.A. meeting of like, ‘Okay, the locals got it. We’ve got it under control,’” she added. “But then you look at the housing crisis, and you look at the homelessness crisis, and like, no, actually what we’ve seen in many places, not everywhere, but in many places, is a lot of resistance to building homes.”

And Wicks said she will try again to pass her bill to create a statewide rental registry, which she said would have made the rent relief rollout smoother. The registry would include similar information to what is available for single-family homes, but has been opposed by the California Apartment Association.

“The fourth time’s the charm,” she said.

Manuela Tobias is the housing reporter for CalMatters. Her stories focus on the political dynamics and economic and racial inequities that have contributed to the housing crisis in California and its potential solutions. Manuela previously covered income inequality and survival at The Fresno Bee for the California Divide.

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