Eden Updates, Policy Updates

Q&A with Assemblymember Timothy Grayson

March 1, 2024

Assemblymember Timothy Grayson took public office in 2010, serving on the Concord City Council, and was elected to serve in the California Assembly in November 2016, representing the 15th Assembly District, which encompasses portions of Contra Costa County.

Stemming from humble roots, Assemblymember Grayson has been a staunch advocate of affordable housing and has also focused on other critical issues such as access to higher education and advocating for victims of domestic violence, human trafficking and child and elder abuse, among many others.

A 30-year resident of the East Bay and an active general building contractor, Assemblymember Grayson decided to run for public office after experiencing first-hand the challenges associated with high costs of housing development and acquisition and the concern that his adult children and the next generation of Californians wouldn’t be able to afford to live where they were raised.

Recently we sat down with Assemblymember Grayson to hear more about his accomplishments and plans, including his vision of addressing the current challenges of affordability so that the American dream can still be a California dream.

Before serving in public office, you worked as a general building contractor, which means you’re one of the few members of the Legislature that has on-the-ground experience with the complexities and costs of development in California. How has your career as a contractor shaped your legislative work on affordable housing?

I believe it brought balance and temperance because as a general contractor for close to 30 years, I knew what it was like to stand at the counter asking for a permit and being worried about delays and unexpected costs due to fees that weren’t fully disclosed.

When I was elected to City Council, I got clarity into what happened on the other side of that counter—why certain fees are charged, for example. As an Assemblymember, I’ve really been hyper-focused on housing, going after fees, transparency, disclosure and accountability; yet at the same time, I realize these fees are necessary to pay for sidewalks, streets and all the infrastructure that’s so vitally important to a healthy and thriving community.

Serving in local government, I see that sometimes permits are a lot more complicated than you would imagine, due to different layers of zoning, some of which haven’t been updated to match the general plan and special districts. You can’t just flip a switch, but I do use my perspective from a general contractor’s point of view and balance it with my perspective of what local government needs, while working closely with other housing champions, like Buffy Wicks and Chris Ward the current chair of the Assembly Housing Committee, to tackle our housing crisis.

You have become one of the biggest champions in the Legislature for lowering the cost of building housing—authoring a range of bills that have sought to reduce fees, speed up approvals, and get much-needed housing built more quickly. With building costs continuing to rise, what do you think the Legislature can do next to make it easier and cheaper to build the affordable homes Californians need?

First of all, I’m humbled to have that reputation. To me, housing is so vitally important and something everybody needs access to. As a matter of fact, one of the first bills that I authored when I got to the Assembly was AB 879, which Governor Brown signed into law (even making it part of his own housing package, which I was delighted to learn), requiring local governments to provide more information about housing development applications and approvals. This was driven by a study that was eventually published in 2019, which recommended feasible ways to reduce the fees associated with residential development and provided invaluable data on smart policy.

We need to look at how we can shorten the timeline from when someone comes in to apply for a permit to when they receive their occupancy certificate. We know that in construction and housing development, time is actually more valuable than money itself. For me, it’s about reducing that timeline, while also addressing the validity and justification for the fees.

You serve as chair of the Assembly Committee on Banking and Finance and serve as on the Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation as well. This has given you a close-up view of the fiscal challenges behind the state’s $38 billion budget shortfall, which has caused housing programs to face more than $1 billion in proposed cuts this year. What funding and financing options does the state have so they can continue providing a stable, long-term support for affordable housing development?

We’re all definitely feeling the weight of the budget shortfall, which looks like it will continue for the next couple of years. While we have some serious challenges to consider, I believe it’s paramount to address and mitigate our ongoing shortfall in housing. We are in a housing crisis, and housing must continue to be built.

While there are some programs that could possibly be paused without significantly impacting the progress we have made, we cannot halt development. It’s critical to our state for people to have access to housing.

I’m a co-author with Assemblymember Wicks on AB 1657, the Affordable Housing Bond Act of 2024, which, if passed, will raise $10 billion for affordable housing. However, that doesn’t address all the issues. If costs continue to be high and timelines continue to be long, it doesn’t matter how much we raise for affordable housing, it’s not going to get built. We have to continue to address the root causes of why housing hasn’t been built for decades in our state.

Today, every dollar we spend here in California is matched by $4 on the federal level. This means we’re actually losing money if we’re not doing our part. In other words, while it may cost us $1, we get $4 back in return—$3 above and beyond the cost. It’s imperative for us to realize that in the long term, the investment of $1 is crucial to reaching our goal of providing more homes for our community members.

After representing the East Bay in the Assembly for the last seven years, you are now running for an open State Senate seat—one that could extend your district southward to include Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek and the Tri-Valley area. What are your impressions of the need for affordable housing in these East Bay communities? What can groups like Eden do to work with your office and local leaders across the region to get more affordable homes built?

One of the most astounding statistics I’ve seen in recent years, is that the five most common jobs in the state of California pay less than the wages needed to afford a home. That has to change, which means either wages need to rise, which eventually can lead companies to determine it’s no longer viable to conduct business here; costs need to come down; or new, innovative pathways need to be paved.

While it’s crucial to have affordable rental housing options available, we also need to provide opportunities for individuals who can afford rent comfortably to eventually transition into homeownership. That’s the avenue which allows individuals to begin building generational wealth, thereby enhancing their lives.

This won’t lead to a glut of empty units because we’re always going to have a stream of populace moving into the rental homes. But at the same time, we need to have a stream moving out of rental unit and into home ownership. In other words, I think there has to be development on all levels of housing, including affordable rental housing and housing that’s affordable to purchase. This will contribute to our economic growth and allow us to reinvest more into the affordable housing bucket.

On the affordable housing development front, there needs to be a hyper focus on providing something more than just a roof and a door. We need to create the type of housing which includes wraparound services that are needed to support an unhoused person who is coming to a more permanent and stable situation, something that Eden Housing is very good at providing.

While this is a complex issue and there’s a lot more work to be done to make our different systems work in tandem, I am very proud to be working alongside so many people and organizations that are equally focused on finding innovative, effective, lasting solutions.