From the Bay to LA, conflicting views on how to fix California’s housing crisis

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A controversial bill that would force cities throughout California to build denser housing hit a wall last week. It was one of the year’s most high-profile pieces of legislation and after months of fighting, Senate Bill 50 was shelved.

The bill requires all California cities to allow apartment buildings to be built near rail and bus lines and in job-rich neighborhoods. In Southern California, that would mean a lot more housing in low-density, single-family neighborhoods.

Even though SB 50 has been blocked from moving forward in Sacramento, it can be reconsidered again next year. The bill’s author, Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco, says he'll continue to pursue it in 2020.

But the lack of local control over transit and building has made the bill unpopular. The LA City Council voted unanimously to oppose it, and the councilmembers aren’t the only ones against the bill.

Greater LA spoke with Senator Wiener as well as one of his toughest critics, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President and affordable housing advocate Michael Weinstein.

State Senator Scott Wiener at KCRW. Photo by Christopher Ho/KCRW

“We're in a terrible situation and we have to take bold action to address our housing shortage or our housing crisis. And that means doing things differently and significant reform and whenever you propose significant reform you're going to have political pushback. And that's just the way of the world. And that's okay. This is a hard issue. And if this bill weren't hotly debated that would be shocking to me it should be hotly debated because it's an important issue. It's a significant reform and I welcome that debate.” - Sen. Scott Wiener

AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein at a City Hall press conference with Mayor Eric Garcetti on April 23, 2018. Photo courtesy of AIDS Healthcare Foundation

“We do not have a shortage of housing, per se. We have a shortage of affordable housing. It doesn't matter how many Ferraris are built. If all you can afford is a Chevy you are not going to have a car and the same thing applies to housing. You know, in the Hollywood area where I work and live there are many empty units and everything that's being built virtually is at the highest end of the marketplace.

And so I don't subscribe to trickle down. That's the problem I have with what Senator Wiener is talking about. And it's shocking to me that someone who considers themselves a progressive subscribes to the idea that if we build high end housing that somehow or other it's going to trickle down and help a person who's working a minimum wage job. It's not, and it's been shown over and over and over again. - Michael Weinstein