Senator Atkins, Don’t Abandon Alabamians

The More HOMES Act would make California a haven for Americans facing repressive state governments. It deserves a vote this year.

Dear Senate Pro Tem Atkins,

Like many Californians, I was stunned on Thursday by your colleague Senator Anthony Portantino’s abuse of power that halted the More HOMES Act. Despite near-unanimous passage in its first two committees and two thirds of Californians supporting it, Senator Portantino refused to bring the bill to a vote in the Appropriations Committee he chairs. SB 50, which would legalize apartments near transit and jobs, only went to Appropriations because it costs $325,000 to implement in its first year — 0.0002% of the state budget.

Senator Atkins, I write to you to reconsider your unwillingness to bring the bill to a vote. We can’t wait the year — if not two, given the political challenges of pushing controversial bills in election years — added by Senator Portantino’s undemocratic act.

Delaying apartment legalization would put California’s housing affordability and climate goals further out of reach. California has the highest poverty rate of any state when considering housing costs, the largest gap between poverty rates that consider housing costs and those that don’t, and the 2nd-fewest housing units per capita. Homelessness, which is caused by high housing prices, is rising across the state. As the housing shortage forces more Californians into supercommutes, transportation creates 41 percent of California’s carbon emissions. Sacramento has a duty to tackle these challenges, which have rightly been central to the bill’s advocacy.

But as I reckoned with Senator Portantino’s decision, I couldn’t help but think of another recent abuse of power on the other side the country: Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signing the most country’s most restrictive abortion ban on Wednesday. That incomparable injustice is thankfully unenforceable for the time being, but it nevertheless sends a message that religious dogmatism is more important than Alabamian women’s rights over their own bodies, while setting up a Supreme Court battle over Roe vs. Wade to allow states to take away those rights.

I thought of all the women in Alabama and other states threatened by repressive reproductive laws — many of which have already taken effect. I thought of transgender people in numerous states humiliated by bathroom laws and denied needed medical care. I thought of low-income people of color victimized by racist police.

California should be a haven for those repressed by their governments — including fellow Americans. They may not be refugees the way Syrians fleeing violence and Venezuelans fleeing starvation are (and just like we should help Syria and Venezuela stabilize, we should advocate federal controls over states’ abuses), but if fellow Americans need our help, we owe it to them to provide it.

In allowing municipalities to block housing, we’ve neglected those in need. San Francisco, which has the world’s highest rents, accepts 95% fewer refugees than it did even a few years ago, and resettlement agencies cite housing costs as the reason. The More HOMES Act would legalize apartments in most of the 73 percent of San Francisco land where they are currently banned.

Despite having the 8th-highest GDP per capita, our state is now losing over 130,000 people to other states on a net basis. When people do move to California, it’s mostly from high income or nearby states: DC, Nevada, Oregon, Washington. Only one in every 1,300 Alabamians moved to California in 2017, the third-lowest rate after Delaware and West Virginia. Given their sixth-lowest GDP per capita and third-lowest prime-age employment, to say nothing of their socially-backwards government, many more than that are likely attracted to our state, but find housing out of reach.

Legalizing apartments is about many things, but Senator Atkins, I hope you think of the parents in Alabama watching their daughter grow up in a state increasingly hostile to women, wanting to give their child a better life. California can be that better life, if there’s a home for them here.

Max Ghenis

California YIMBY

Economist. Founder and president of the UBI Center. Studied at MIT and UC Berkeley. YIMBY. Former Google data scientist.

Economist. Founder and president of the UBI Center. Studied at MIT and UC Berkeley. YIMBY. Former Google data scientist.