Legislation to create Orange County housing trust could help ease the local homeless crisis
With the state legislature back in session, Orange County is poised to see the approval of a bill that could dramatically change the landscape for housing its homeless population.
Assembly Bill 448 would create the Orange County Housing Trust, a regional joint powers authority that would allow the county and its 34 cities to collectively compete for hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private funding.
It would more quickly finance the construction of supportive housing for homeless people, and affordable housing for others with low incomes .
Proponents see AB 448 as a potential game changer in a county that for more than a decade had been notoriously slow — if not completely non-responsive — in addressing a growing homeless crisis, but in the past couple of years has scrambled to catch up.
“If this is created, Orange County will have a leg up on other parts of California in attracting the necessary funds to address homelessness,” said Assemblyman Tom Daly (D-Anaheim), who introduced the bill in May with Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton).
The bill’s purpose, as described in its text, is strictly a financing mechanism, with no land-use authority, no means to own or operate housing, or to dictate to local jurisdictions where to build.
The housing trust, which could issue bonds and leverage private dollars, would be governed by a board of directors to include city and county representatives, and community members.
The bill also calls for an annual audit for transparency.
AB 448 quickly gained bipartisan support among state and local elected officials, with the notable exception of Orange County’s 2nd District Supervisor Michelle Steel.
Its coauthors in the state senate are Republicans: Pat Bates of Laguna Niguel, John Moorlach of Costa Mesa, and Janet Nguyen of Garden Grove. The legislation also has broad support in the private sector.
The legislation grew out of the simultaneous efforts of former Santa Ana Mayor and Irvine Company No. 2 executive Dan Young to secure $100 million in private financing and the Association of California Cities – Orange County to harness the backing of city officials in creating an estimated 2,700 units of supportive housing.
So far, the ACC-OC has identified 2,000 potential sites, said Heather Stratman, executive director of the ACC-OC. And a collection of 50 wealthy “legacy families” in Orange County are poised to commit $2 million each that could be used to leverage public dollars.
“So many legacy families in Orange County want to do their part,” said Bill Taormina, a wealthy Anaheim businessman who, as one of the legacy families, has helped line up the pledges of private support.
Supervisor Steel outlined her opposition in an Op-Ed published in the Orange County Register in July.
She argued that AB 448 would “take away local control, and grow the size of government to build large scale homeless and subsidized government housing in your backyard with your hard-earned dollars.”
Sen. Moorlach responded days later with his own opinion piece, also published in The Register, that called Steel’s opposition “classic NIMBYism and fearmongering.”
The bill made its way smoothly through the Assembly against the backdrop of a still unfolding civil rights lawsuit filed in late January over the dismantling of homeless encampments at the Santa Ana River Trail and a scathing report from the Orange County Grand Jury in May that blamed the failure of local elected leadership, poor city-county collaboration and NIMBY residents for not housing the chronically homeless.
AB 448 is expected to go straight to the Senate floor this month and be approved before the Aug. 31 end of the current legislative session, then sent to Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor would have until Sept. 30 to sign or veto any legislation.
A good start
Homeless advocate Mohammed Aly called the stamp of approval from Moorlach, who spent about 10 years apiece in each of his previous roles as a county supervisor and the treasurer-tax collector, a good sign of the bill’s attention to accountability. Aly helped line up endorsements for AB 448 in its early stages.
“Nobody is more fiscally responsible than Sen. Moorlach,” said Aly, a lawyer who founded the Orange County Poverty Alleviation Coalition and has gone to battle numerous times with county and city officials over treatment of homeless people.
Quirk-Silva said the bill not only is backed by Orange County’s state delegation but also by legislators elsewhere in California.
“It’s one of the few times you see some real significant bipartisan support,” she said.
AB 448 is similar to housing trusts established in Santa Clara County, Silicon Valley, and San Mateo County, said Cesar Covarrubias, executive director of The Kennedy Commission, an Irvine-based nonprofit that advocates from the local to the federal government for housing that people earning less than $10 an hour could afford.
While he applauds the Orange County legislation as a good start at a regional approach toward financing affordable housing for homeless people and others with low incomes, Covarrubias said it doesn’t go far enough. The Kennedy Commission has long advocated for a local housing bond.
“Strategically, you need to be in support of creating more resources and not just taking advantage of the opportunities.” Covarrubias said.