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Social Housing Legislation By Assemblymember Alex Lee Passes First Hurdle

For immediate release:

Assemblymember Alex Lee’s social housing legislation passed the Housing and Community Development Committee. The bill, which will create publicly-owned, affordable mixed-income housing, is now headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. 

“The free market is driven by profit motive, and sky-high housing prices are forcing Californians to move away from their home communities,” said Assemblymember Lee. “We need the public sector’s intervention to help tackle the housing crisis. Through a public developer, we can build social housing that is meant for everyone. AB 2881 will spur a paradigm shift in California by providing housing as a fundamental and universal right.” 

AB 2881 will create the California Housing Authority with the mission of producing social housing developments for residents. Unlike the current model of affordable housing, social housing is financially self-sustaining given that people with higher incomes will subsidize low-income units. Social housing avoids the problem of concentrated poverty by creating mixed-income neighborhoods. This strategy fosters economic opportunities, while preserving affordability in the community. 

Further, the housing units will be protected from being sold or transferred to private for-profit entities. Residents will also be granted the same protections as tenants in private properties, including protection against termination without just cause or for any discriminatory, retaliatory or other arbitrary reason. 

Social housing has seen success both nationally and internationally. For instance, Singapore’s social housing model was central to the country’s efforts of solving its housing crisis in the last century. Today, about 80% of residents in Singapore live in social housing flats, and 9 in 10 of these residents own their flats. In Vienna, 62% of residents live in social housing, and 75% of residents qualify to live in social housing based on income.

Here in California, the housing shortage and homelessness crisis continues to deepen. According to a 2023 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the population of people experiencing homelessness in California grew by 30.5% from 2007 to 2023. 

In the meantime, the state has to build at least 2.5 million more housing units by 2030, including 1 million homes that are affordable to lower-income households. According to data from the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the state built just roughly 85,000 housing units annually including about 15,000 lower-income units from 2018 to 2022. 

Social housing will complement the state’s current efforts to build more affordable homes. It’s a model that’s gaining momentum in the U.S. Both the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County, Maryland, and the Capitol Area Development Authority in Sacramento have successfully implemented the mixed-income model. Last year, Seattle passed a ballot initiative to create a social housing developer. Legislation has also been recently introduced in New York State to establish a social housing development authority. 

In California, Assemblymember Lee was the first state legislator to propose social housing legislation in 2021, and last year, he delivered his social housing bill to the Governor’s desk. Assemblymember Lee shared his work on social housing at the White House and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this year. He also recently presented on social housing to stakeholders including lawmakers, advocates and community organizers at an event hosted by The Sanders Institute.