California Will Charge New Fees on Real-Estate Deals to Pay for Affordable Housing

By Alejandro Lazo Features Dow Jones Newswires

California will enact new fees on real-estate transactions and ask voters to approve a $4 billion bond measure on next year's ballot, among other measures aimed at creating more affordable housing.

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The bond measure and the new fees -- intended to pay for new affordable housing units and homes for veterans -- are part of a package of 15 bills that California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Friday to address the state's housing shortage. California rents and home prices have soared, and homeownership has plummeted.

Other measures in the package include a provision to streamline housing requirements in cities that aren't building to state-mandated goals, incentives for cities to plan new neighborhoods and prod local governments to get shovels into the ground.

Experts say California's high housing costs have crimped economic productivity, increased poverty rates, increased crowding and lengthened commute times.

California has long been considered by home builders and developers one of the most difficult places to build because of lengthy and complicated permit processes.

In signing the measures Friday, Mr. Brown acknowledged the role local and state regulations have played on the state's housing shortage, saying efforts to improve building safety, increase environmental standards and shape neighborhood character has resulted in "a lot of rules."

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"All these rules were passed by people like you, let's face it," Mr. Brown told a crowd of mayors, lawmakers and other dignitaries gathered at an affordable housing project in San Francisco.

"City and state people did all this good stuff -- energy efficiency, better insulation, more of this and more of that, you know, you name it -- it's all good!" he said. "But as I always say, too many goods create a bad."

A report in 2015 by the state legislature's independent analyst found that California has some of the most expensive housing markets in the U.S. largely because of the slow pace of development in high-demand coastal cities.

These coastal communities restrict new building through local ordinances, planning boards and voter initiatives, the 2015 report said. Costs are often higher, and high-density development is lower in these communities.

The slow pace of construction in the city's major coastal markets -- where demand for homes is highest -- has led to prices soaring in recent years, as low inventory has fueled bidding wars.

In Los Angeles County, the median home price for a single-family home was $575,130 in August, while in San Francisco the median home price was $1.38 million, according to data from the California Association of Realtors.

The median home price for a single-family home in the state of California hit $565,330 in August, according to the association's data. That is a 131% increase from the bottom, hit in February 2009, during the depths of the last housing downturn, when foreclosures inundated the market. And August's statewide median home price is also just 5% below the $594,530 peak hit in May 2007.

Underscoring the uneven nature of the California housing market, an analysis by the data firm CoreLogic found statewide sales of homes of more than $1 million hit an all-time high in the first quarter of this year while sales of homes under $500,000 slumped to a nine-year low.

The state also had four of the country's 10 most expensive rental markets in the third quarter, according to real-estate researcher Reis Inc. Average rent in San Francisco was $2,880; San Jose, $2,484; Orange County, $1,801; and Los Angeles, $1,797.

Lawmakers estimate they need to build 1.8 million new units of housing to meet population projections and household growth over the next decade.

As lawmakers deliberated over the measures in August, one of the sharpest sticking points was a fee of $75 to $225 onto some real-estate transactions to create a permanent source of funding for low-income housing.

Republicans said the fee amounted to a tax increase and groups including the National Federation of Independent Business, the California Mortgage Association, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and some county governments opposed the fee. The $4 billion housing bond will require voter approval in November 2018.

Write to Alejandro Lazo at alejandro.lazo@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 29, 2017 18:19 ET (22:19 GMT)