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Want affordable housing? Then bring back RDA
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Voters are being asked in November to approve a $4 billion general obligation bond to pay for affordable housing.
Earlier this week Gov. Jerry Brown and his fellow politicians did a photo op while he signed legislation authorizing the bond as they slapped each other on the back.
They actually should be apologizing.
It was the governor and the California Legislature that killed off the most far reaching and effective way that produced affordable housing throughout the state. They eliminated redevelopment agencies because they refused to trim back state bureaucracy and layoff state workers during the budget crisis to live within their means. In pulling the plug on RDAs and seizing taxes not committed to existing RDA bond repayments, Brown justified his actions because of what he called widespread abuse of the law.
Funny, Oakland — the city he was mayor of between stints at the State Capitol — made effective use of the mandate that 20 percent of RDA bond proceeds be spent on affordable housing. So did a host of other cities in the Valley.
How many affordable housing units from previous state bonds have been built in the Valley? Zilch. That’s exactly how many will be built in the Valley with the proceeds from the proposed $4 billion bond. Almost all of the money will go to projects in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, while both jurisdictions continue to grow their economies by shoving more of their workforce to the interior to secure affordable housing while exacerbating Central Valley and Riverside-San Bernardino affordable housing problems for residents living and working in those areas.
Now compare that to RDA housing. When the proposed Manteca area Cottage Avenue low-income apartment complex is completed and uses what remains of the 20 percent set aside from the city’s final RDA bond sale, RDA will have helped fund more than 450 rent-restricted affordable housing units in Manteca. That’s 450 more than the state has or ever will help build in Manteca. And that doesn’t include over a hundred first-time buyers the Manteca RDA helped secure a home for close to 1,000 elderly and or handicapped households over a 20-year period that used one-time funding to make improvements to address handicap needs or made healthy and safety corrections so they could continue living in their homes. That prevented a need from being created for limited income seniors trying to find shelter. It also prevented older inventories of homes from becoming blighted.
Now, add in all of the other RDA affordable housing built in other cities. It would be extremely generous to say what the state’s proposed $4 billion will generate in affordable housing units as setting a new standard in meager return for the money spent.
A better solution is to revive RDAs with a few changes. If the state is concerned — and rightfully so — about sweetheart deals some RDAs engineered for corporations, then how the money can be spent should be restricted. One of the biggest impediments to economic growth is infrastructure. Cities have a backlog of aging sewer and water main issues, crumbling streets and bridges and the inability to finance new infrastructure as well.
The state could allow RDAs to be formed again but mandate 40 percent of all bond proceeds be spent on affordable housing. The remaining 60 percent could be spent on aging backbone infrastructure. If an RDA wants to spend up to three-quarters of that 60 percent on new infrastructure to induce economic growth they would need to spend 3 percent of the amount set aside on providing homeless shelters working in partnership with non-profits. That requirement could allow the purchase or building of transitional housing, family shelters, or single adult shelters.

 A revived RDA with a more muscular affordable housing mandate is light years more effective than the grandstanding statewide $4 billion bond that would provide enough housing each year for less than 2,100 Californians.