California’s historic housing legislation won’t bring down costs anytime soon

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

California lawmakers this year took historic action to address what one housing economist says is the state’s most serious problem: unaffordability.

“Over the past 30 years, we’ve made it very difficult to build new housing and wages have not kept pace with the rising cost of house prices or rents, to the point it has grown into a crisis. It’s the single biggest problem California faces,” said Ken Rosen, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and chair of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics. “If we don’t solve this problem, the economic impacts over the next five to 10 years will be devastating.

“Companies will move out. Young people won’t be able to afford to stay here. As people retire, they’ll move, and California will no longer be the Golden State,” Rosen said.

Democrats in the Legislature – and one Republican – have advanced to Gov. Jerry Brown a package of housing bills that seek to stem the bleeding. Through a spokesperson, Brown said he supports each of the 15 bills, which provide new funding for low-income housing development, seek to lower the cost of construction, fast-track building and restrict the ability of cities and counties to block new development. …

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New tax on real estate docs adds hardships to most vulnerable

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image14115451Last week, the California Senate voted to pass Senate Bill 2 which would impose a new $75 tax on real estate documents filed with each county’s clerk recorder. If the bill becomes law, the projected revenue — over $250 million annually — would be dedicated to low income housing programs.

Like a recurring nightmare, this proposal to tax real estate transactions seems to come up every legislative session. Up to now, this regressive tax has failed to gain traction because of bipartisan opposition. Taxpayer and business interests hope that, once again, the bill fails to complete its journey through the legislative process.

Currently, certain real estate documents must be filed with the county in which the property is located.Recording fees are relatively modest, costing between $14 and $18 varying slightly among counties. The fees help defer the costs of administering the clerk/recorder’s office and, as long as the fees are low, they encourage people to record essential documents.

SB2 would increase that fee to anywhere between $89 and $93 per document; amounting to a tax increase of up to 1,250 percent. Anyone recording a property-related document would be required to pay the fee although sales transactions would be exempt. There is also cap of $225 on each transaction.

A flat rate tax on real estate recordings is highly regressive. For example, because actual sales are exempt, a person purchasing a multi-million dollar home wouldn’t pay the higher tax. But a widow recording an affidavit of their spouse’s death would. So would a contractor filing a mechanics lien for unpaid work or a senior citizen on a fixed income recording estate planning documents, including transfer upon death deeds. Moreover, the bill would make refinancing a home and loan modifications more expensive as those transactions would trigger the tax.

The biggest irony of SB2 is that it ignores basic economics. Think about it. A tax imposed on real estate transactions — obviously imposed only on those who own property — to pay for programs to make housing more affordable. This is like treating someone with a low blood count with leaches.

No one disputes that California has a housing crisis. It ranks 49th out of 50 states in housing units per capita. But SB2 only creates a different hardship as it attempts to alleviate another.

In a 2015 report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office titled, “California’s High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences,” the nonpartisan LAO said “the key remedy to California’s housing challenges is a substantial increase in private home building in the state’s coastal urban communities.” Furthermore, “considerable evidence suggests that construction of market-rate housing reduces housing costs for low-income households,” while government programs for affordable housing help only a fraction of low-income Californians. And expanding those programs would be “extremely challenging and prohibitively expensive.” In other words, a new tax or bond is not the way to solve this problem. Government programs cannot be the solution to fix problems created solely by government.

SB2 puts an excessive tax burden on families who have already achieved homeownership and is unnecessarily regressive. Lawmakers should reject SB2, as they have in the past, and work to remove regulations, lower building permit and impact fee costs and push for CEQA reform. Only then can we ensure that the American Dream of homeownership remains viable in California. Taxpayers should call their representative in the State Assembly and urge them to oppose SB2.

Jon Coupal is the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Kammi Foote is the clerk-recorder of Inyo County.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

Seller’s market: Bay Area real estate deal-making accelerates

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

How fast is fast? For Bay Area real estate, the speed of deal-making is accelerating this spring as homes spend less time on the market and cash deals close at bullet-train speed.

Just ask Steve Pierce, whose house in Redwood City attracted 17 offers last month and raced so quickly through the escrow process that he and his wife, Sheila, requested a delay so they could spend Easter dinner with the family: “It was like boom, boom, boom,” he said. “The buyers couldn’t wait to get in. All cash.”

Or ask Mei Zhang, who moved a year ago from Shanghai — another hot market — to the East Bay. In February, with all their loan pre-approval documents in order, she and her husband, Yudang, leapt on a house in Orinda, pushing it to contract in seven days. “We really liked it at first glance,” said Mei Zhang, “and so we made an offer really quick” — $41,000 over the $1,469,000 asking price. …

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Assembly Democrats Want Real Estate Fees, Tax Credits for Affordable Housing

As reported by KQED:

The leader of the state Assembly is unveiling an ambitious affordable housing proposal, one that could pump more than $600 million a year into  development at the local level.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) was joined Wednesday afternoon by a wide range of prominent Democrats in Los Angeles, including state Treasurer John Chiang and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, to announce her plan. At its center: A proposal to institute a new transfer fee on real estate transactions, one Atkins’ staff characterizes as small; and expanding legislation proposed by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) to increase the tax credit that real estate developers can claim when they build affordable housing.

“The bottom line is that every Californian deserves a stable, safe place to live,” Atkins said.

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