Housing California’s Policy Director Christopher Martin on ‘adopting solutions at scale’ to move the needle on housing

Christopher Martin is the policy director for Housing California. (Photo by Fred Greaves)

By Jessica Laskey

here’s never a day’s rest for Christopher Martin, policy director for Housing California, a statewide advocacy organization that “works to create a California with homes, health and prosperity for all in thriving, sustainable communities.”

It’s Martin’s job to advocate with lawmakers for public policies that aim to eliminate homelessness and produce more affordable housing — a job that’s in the spotlight more than ever as California struggles with a historic lack of housing and Sacramento, specifically, struggles with an ever-increasing unhoused population.

We recently spoke to Martin about Housing California’s plans to address these pressing issues.

Tell me about your organization and the work it does to advocate for affordable housing in the region.

Housing California advances solutions that address the production of affordable housing, the preservation of affordable housing and the protection of people who are threatened with housing precarity because of income, race, disability or other factors. We also advance homelessness solutions focused on the recurring resources needed to ensure we have the long-term housing, support services and frontline workers we need.

We work with persons with lived experience and tenants in affordable housing residences to build the power we need to win change. … We know that those closest to the problem are closest to the solutions and we must be grounded in the lived expertise of people who have been impacted by this crisis. 

We have introduced, and are working to implement, a 10-year Marshall Plan for housing called Roadmap Home 2030 that gets us from where we are to where we need to be. We are shifting the narratives that stand in the way of adopting solutions at scale. We work to ensure the state of California’s policies and budgetary allocations make it possible for Sacramento to address the affordable housing drought.

What do you think is driving this drought?

For decades, the Sacramento region, like the state of California, has failed to produce enough housing — particularly housing that is affordable to the lowest-income Californians — to meet the demands of a growing population, causing rents to skyrocket and putting homeownership out of reach for many.

Key drivers of slow housing production have been the result of insufficient federal funding for new housing (particularly during and after the Reagan years); the end of redevelopment agencies in California in 2012, which served as a significant source of housing funding; high construction costs; and a lack of political will and outright opposition at the local level.

What does Roadmap Home 2030 entail?

Our Roadmap Home 2030 report offers a comprehensive policy framework along with 57 evidence-based solutions that, if implemented over the next 10 years, will solve our housing affordability crisis in California and ensure all residents can access a safe, stable and affordable home.

As part of this report, we conducted an analysis of what it would take to end the housing and homelessness crisis by 2030 in California. This analysis pointed us to an annual investment need of nearly $18 billion — similar to what the state invests in higher education. This would require a dramatic increase from the [current] level… of less than $6 billion.

How does Housing California propose we achieve these goals?

We must build more housing that is affordable to the lowest-income Californians. This will require increasing funding for affordable housing at the federal, state and local levels, upzoning areas currently zoned for low density, requiring affordable units in the construction of new market-rate housing (inclusionary zoning), and utilizing recent state streamlining laws to speed up the production process and bypass local opposition.

What else can be done?

Increasing the supply of rental assistance, including Section 8 housing vouchers and local housing flex pools, and making it easier to use them through landlord incentives, housing navigation, adequate search times, and enforcement of California’s source-of-income discrimination law [which prohibits landlords from rejecting potential tenants solely on their use of a housing voucher].

Preserving the existing affordable housing stock, including deed-restricted and non-deed-restricted units. This requires funding for acquisition and rehabilitation activities and new funding models that work for preservation activities.

Increasing tenant protections so residents can remain in affordable housing without being displaced. This includes stronger rent control and just-cause eviction protections and more accessible legal defense for tenants.

Targeting interventions to unhoused people, with the recognition that affordable housing is necessary but not sufficient to stay stably housed. This includes funding for outreach, housing through rental subsidies and capital for permanent supportive housing, resources for enhanced services through things like Medi-Cal [and] CalAIM, and housing search assistance. 

These solutions outlined in the Roadmap Home utilize all of the tools in our toolbox to increase the affordable housing supply and ensure that people stay stably housed.

Are there limits to these solutions?

Decades of underproducing housing mean that it will take decades to climb ourselves out of this affordability crisis, even if cities rapidly increase production above historical levels.

California cannot address its affordable housing crisis alone without an increase in funding for LIHTC [Low-Income Housing Tax Credit], Section 8 and other key federal programs. California has laws on the books that severely restrict its ability to implement the structural reforms that are necessary to tackle the housing crisis, including Costa-Hawkins [Rental Housing Act, which places limits on municipal rent control ordinances], the Ellis Act [which allows landlords to evict tenants in order to get out of the rental business], Prop 13, and limitations on local governments’ ability to raise new money for housing.

What are you working on at the moment?

We are working in a broad coalition of advocates from affordable housing, tenant protections and homelessness to advance a shared set of budget requests that we believe will have an impact in California.

This includes advancing AB 1657 (Wicks), a $10 billion affordable housing bond for the November 2024 ballot, as well as a set of general fund investments. These investments include the state’s multifamily housing program, programs to preserve existing affordable housing and naturally occurring affordable housing, homeownership, tribal housing, ongoing funding to address homelessness, funding to protect tenants from evictions and displacement, and resources to help better utilize our housing choice vouchers in California. 

Housing California is leading an effort to increase the utilization of our state’s unused housing choice vouchers, or Section 8. This is through AB 653 (Reyes), which would require housing authorities to report on their success rate, or lease-up rate, and for housing authorities below a threshold, they would then work with the state to examine their policies for areas of improvement including applying for Small Area Fair Market Rent, which gives you a more accurate portrayal of fair market rent in an area.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and Solutions Journalism Network. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19. 

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