Reimagining California’s Housing Policy With An Equity Lens

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(Photo: CalHFA)

California Forward is committed to advancing policy intersections that create a more inclusive and sustainable California where all people can prosper. To move this forward, we must address the racial and geographic inequities that have been exacerbated by a public health and economic crisis, and we must answer the call to dismantle structural racism. The Voices of Shared Prosperity series amplifies the stories of Californians who are committing their time and talent to solutions that embrace equity, the environment, and the economy.

“How do you start changing the systematic racism found in housing policies, when the systems you’ve put in place are not working? You repeal the laws. Take them off the books.”

This is the question and answer Tia Boatman Patterson, executive director of the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA), gave as she reflected on how to effectively address social inequities that have been perpetuated in the state’s housing policies.

Boatman Patterson experienced homelessness, public housing, and homeownership before she completed junior high school. “That was probably the foundation of my understanding of a sense of community and a sense of housing and [the value] of what stable housing provides in your life,” she recalled.

Her family became homeless overnight after the house her great-grandfather built burned to the ground. A scene she remembers vividly although she was only in kindergarten. From there, she and her family stayed with relatives and later went into the public housing system. Her mother was able to move her family out of public housing as a result of Federal legislation that passed in 1974 and 1975 that struck down sex discrimination in lending.

Boatman Patterson’s mother was a single parent who adamantly stressed the importance of education to both her girls. Today both Boatman Patterson and her sister have advanced post-baccalaureate degrees and a shared value of the connection between community and educational outcomes.

After completing her JD degree, Boatman Patterson earned a reputation in the state’s Capital as one of the top policy consultants. Among several other high-profile positions, she was appointed general counsel at the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency. From there, her leadership in housing policy took shape. Boatman Patterson was appointed by both former Governor Jerry Brown and Governor Gavin Newsom to her current position leading CalHFA.

“I’ve been able to guide the policies with a shared lived experience and an eye toward equity and inclusion,” she reflected. She also credits her experiences living in a mixed-income community with expanding her mental map of possibility. Although her mother worked part-time as a sales clerk, Boatman Patterson says she reaped the benefits of living in a community of people who had different socio-economic statuses and backgrounds.

In 2019, Californians typically paid $1,695 a month in housing costs. Among Californians paying rent, over 53% of households paid more than 30% of their income in rent.
*Launching at the 2020 California Economic Summit, the California Dream Index is a tool that measures and tracks economic mobility.

In response to COVID-19, Boatman Patterson praised the CalHFA team and the heroic efforts of the staff to provide services to the state but she insists it is important to remain especially diligent about the impacts of COVID on the state’s most vulnerable populations.

She highlighted that while the majority of properties managed by or in partnership with CalHFA have rental protection under the CARES Act, a large portion of California’s low-income renters live in homes owned by small landlords who rent rooms or the entire home to tenants. Boatman Patterson compares small landlords to small business owners and highlights that neither they nor the renters have protection under the CARES Act. She stresses the importance of taking a holistic approach that protects the housing supply for this group for the benefit of the state.

Boatman Patterson insists that there are socially conscious, equitable and economically sound ways to improve housing affordability in California. Her recommendations include:

  • Repeal Article 34 of the California Constitution. Boatman Patterson cites this as the original NIMBY law. The legislation prohibits low-income housing from being built in a community, through public financing, unless the majority of voters in a jurisdiction approve it. She refers to this as government-sponsored discrimination. “Stop chipping around the edges and repeal Article 34. It never had a purpose other than to be insidious – so get rid of it.”
  • Eliminate Single-Family Zoning. Boatman Patterson firmly supports developers’ ability to build one to four units on a single-family lot in high resource areas ”by right” with ministerial approval. She explained that duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes are all forms of low-density affordable housing that should be eligible for development without debate.
  • Prioritize mixed income affordable housing. She explained that the state’s current housing finance system has historically been flawed, resulting in concentrating the density of poor people in one area. She supports projects that target residents who have a wide range of Area Median Income (AMI) levels. She insists more housing units would be built because there will be an increased return on investment as residents who can pay higher rent do so. This would allow funding to go farther and developers would not need additional operating subsidies to complete projects.

Boatman Patterson is committed to building communities that support social inclusivity and economic development. “We need to think of how we can serve a broader range of incomes – because we need to think more holistically to get better outcomes.”

Boatman Patterson is a leader of the Expanding Home Ownership workgroup for the 2020 California Economic Summit. She continues to invest her expertise and experience in the development of socially inclusive and equitable communities for all Californians.

The Voices of Shared Prosperity stories will be shared in advance of the 2020 California Economic Summit, taking place on December 3-4.


Amber Bolden

All stories by: Amber Bolden