Assembly speaker pushes tax credits, $75 real estate document fee to expand affordable housing

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins announced a proposal Wednesday to expand affordable housing in California by charging a $75 fee to record some real estate documents.

The San Diego Democrat's plan would send cities hundreds of millions of dollars for development benefiting poor and middle-class Californians. Local governments lost a key funding source for affordable housing when Gov. Jerry Brown dissolved redevelopment agencies in 2011.

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About 36 percent of homeowners and nearly half of renters spend more than a third of their income on housing, a Public Policy Institute of California report this month said.

"We have a housing crisis in California, and it's time we offered some bold suggestions and solutions," Atkins said in a news conference in front of a Los Angeles housing development.

Like earlier legislation, Atkins' proposal adds a $75 fee onto deeds and other real estate transaction documents recorded when businesses buy property and residents refinance their homes. Home buyers would not be charged.

The fee could raise between $300 million to $750 million a year, according to a 2013 state estimate.

In order to meet the two-thirds threshold to pass a new fee, Democrats need support from Republicans after losing supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature in the November elections. Republicans voted against similar legislation with a fee on real estate documents and it ultimately failed to advance over opposition from real estate agents.

A lobbyist for the California Association of Realtors did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the latest proposal.

Atkins also wants to add $300 million in tax credits for developers who offer low-income housing.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the lack of affordable housing is undermining the quality of life in California. He said it's harder for cities to offer housing because of declining federal funding, increased demand from the recession, and the loss of redevelopment agencies that collected about $1 billion for affordable housing before they were shuttered.

"All local governments feel the squeeze," Garcetti said.

Atkins, who grew up poor in Appalachia, has said affordable housing is her top personal priority since she rose to leadership last May. Her wife is a consultant to businesses and nonprofits on development issues, including affordable housing.