California State Bill AB-2011 Will Create New Framework for Organized Labor and Affordable Housing

As Californians continue to feel the crunch of our state’s rising rents and lack of housing production, the State legislature has been surprisingly unable to advance legislation to address key barriers to building more homes. Unfortunately, most of the bills proposed in the last few years have stalled out after failing to gain the support of both labor organizers and affordable housing groups, slowing the progress in housing production we so desperately need.

This year, however, an unexpected coalition is trying to break through the logjam. A new bill that bridges the gap is quickly gaining momentum after securing endorsements from both affordable housing advocates and several key unions (most notably, the Carpenters and SEIU). AB-2011 (Wicks), the Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act, provides new tools to expand affordable housing production on underutilized commercial land while providing additional benefits for the construction workers who build these projects. The California Conference of Carpenters and the California Housing Consortium have co-sponsored this bill after trying for years to find a policy solution that uplifts both low-income renters and workers in the building trades. This bill threads the needle by attaching robust, unprecedented worker benefits to the production of 100% affordable housing on sites currently zoned for commercial structures, ensuring that all construction workers earn prevailing wages and receive health benefits.

The bill’s focus on underutilized commercial sites is an important one, as California’s insufficient housing production is partly due to challenges with zoning. By paving the way for housing on environmentally-safe sites originally zoned for offices, retail stores, or parking lots, AB-2011 will unlock hundreds of new sites for housing – in fact, one recent analysis found the potential for 2 million new units in just the Bay Area and Los Angeles County. To build on these new sites, developers will need to commit to strong labor protections for all workers.

While it’s not over the finish line yet, the strong support of California’s affordable housing and labor leaders signals a promising path forward for AB-2011. Growing a well-paid, well-trained construction workforce is an important piece of the affordable housing production puzzle, and Mercy Housing California is proud to support this important policy.