Audit: California too slow in offering affordable housing

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California has not effectively used surplus properties owned by the state to help alleviate the affordable housing crisis, according to an audit that recommends agencies hire more staff and accelerate the rate at which parcels are offered for development.

Michael Tilden, the acting state auditor, reviewed California’s compliance with a 2019 executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom that prioritizes the use of state-owned land to support the creation of affordable housing.

“The rapid creation of affordable housing is critical because more than 1.4 million low-income California renter households lack access to affordable housing,” Tilden wrote in a letter Tuesday to the governor and other state leaders.

While it’s estimated more than 30,000 units of affordable housing could be provided to renters under the executive order, the state Department of General Services needs to speed up the process of offering properties for development, the audit concluded.

Of the 92 properties the department plans to develop, it has made only 19 available, the report found. In addition, the department anticipates that it will take seven years to make the remaining parcels available, “but the addition of just one staff member could reduce that time by more than two years,” Tilden wrote.

The Department of General Services (DGS) and the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) generally agreed with the report’s assessments and noted that they would implement the recommendations, the auditor’s office said.

Housing and Community Development said in a statement Tuesday that it is “committed to maximizing opportunities for all Californians to have a stable, affordable place to call home.”

“In that work, the HCD and DGS team has created a development pipeline of more than 3,000 homes in less than three years since the first property was made available, and at least 2,000 more homes are anticipated from its current open solicitations,” the statement said.

The audit recommends the California Legislature enact state laws that require agencies to comply with the executive order. The Department of General Services should be required by law to develop criteria to evaluate state parcels for affordable housing use by September 2022, the audit said.

The report also recommended the state conduct comprehensive reviews next year and every four years after that to identify surplus properties that could be used for housing.

The state missed opportunities to consider additional properties for affordable housing because of a lack of communication between agencies, the audit found.

“The state’s need for affordable housing is significantly outpacing its production, which is negatively affecting Californians,” auditors wrote.

Reports by the Department of Housing and Community Development found that high housing costs often result in families becoming behind on their rent and going without food, utilities, or health care. A lack of affordable housing also contributes to homelessness, which is at crisis levels in California.