Eden Updates, Policy Updates

Q&A with Senator Steve Glazer

March 1, 2024

Throughout his eight-year tenure in the California State Senate, Senator Steve Glazer has been a dedicated advocate for affordable housing, public safety, education, water conservation and small businesses.

Most recently, his commitment to CEQA reform and advocacy for state budget investments in affordable housing has made a significant impact. Additionally, in 2019, he played a pivotal role in securing vital budget approvals to address the housing crisis, including substantial funding allocations such as $1 billion for local and regional affordable housing support, $500 million for in-fill grants, and $500 million for low-income grants, among others. Glazer’s leadership was also evident in the passage of 14 housing bills aimed at incentivizing housing production and addressing various housing-related challenges. These legislative efforts collectively allocated $331 million to support vulnerable homeowners and renters, promote accessory dwelling unit construction, streamline permitting processes, and expand affordable housing opportunities across diverse communities.

We had the privilege of connecting with Senator Glazer to discuss his insights on affordable housing and discuss his last year in the California State Senate and his hopes for the future of California’s housing crisis. 

As the State Senator representing the East Bay for the last decade, you’ve seen firsthand the expanding impacts of California’s shortage of affordable housing— from rising homelessness and mental health issues to workers struggling to find a place to live close to their jobs. With your time in the Legislature coming to an end this year, what lessons have you learned about how the state and local governments can work together to build more of the affordable homes Californians need?

Affordable housing is an important issue to me because I want to make sure Californians have a stable home that does not cost half of their income to maintain.

In my time as State Senator, there has been a lot of focus on circumventing local review to help fast-track housing. I do support holding cities and counties to reasonable timelines so they don’t sit on housing projects, but in the long run, it is best to have local input and buy-in on housing projects. To really increase housing production, we must create a better risk-reward ratio for private and non-profit housing developers. Regulatory and financing reforms will best accomplish this goal and, in turn, increase production.

You have supported years of state budget investments in affordable housing, including an expansion of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, one of the most successful tools affordable housing providers have for financing new projects. The bulk of this tax credit, $500 million a year, is in danger of being cut from next year’s budget due to a multi-billion revenue shortfall. Is there anything housing advocates can do to prevent that from happening?

The Low Income Housing Tax Credit is a vital financial tool for affordable housing developers and removing that funding will be devastating to our housing goals. There are hundreds of thousands of approved housing units waiting to be built, but they cannot get off the ground. As I mentioned above, the heart of the issue is the return on investment (ROI) imbalance that developers are facing. Tax credits, such as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, help stabilize that imbalance. Housing advocates need to elevate the issue to the budget committee members and the Governor to clearly communicate what will happen to the state’s housing supply if that credit is cut.

California needs more affordable housing, but given California’s current revenue challenges, the state budget may not provide reliable funding for the next several years. What do you think the best long-term option is for maintaining an adequate source of financing for affordable housing projects? A statewide bond? Another option?

The Legislature will be considering a regional and state housing bond this year that, if passed, would likely go before the voters in the November 2024 election.  These bonds will provide billions in additional funds without impacting the general fund in the short term, so I think that is one critical source. While I support bonds, they must be paired with critical reforms to reduce the risks developers face and improve their ROIs. Another option is to increase the federal portion of the tax credit, which would provide a lot more stable funding for affordable housing that will not be subject to state economic downturns.

You have led efforts in the Legislature for years to curb abuses of the state’s environmental laws by groups opposed to affordable housing projects, and Eden is working with your office on legislation that could help projects like the Downtown Livermore Apartments avoid being tied up in court by “bad faith” lawsuits. Why have you focused so much of your attention on CEQA reform during your time in office—and why do you think this particular bill is so important?

In many ways, CEQA is like the “third rail” in California. I recognized there was a problem after I saw CEQA streamlining for stadiums and other luxury developments for the wealthy. It made me ask, “Why can’t we do so for housing?” Other factors, such as labor and material costs and local fees, are likely a greater impediment than CEQA, but they are also difficult to build consensus around.

I appreciate our partnership on Senate Bill 393 to require additional disclosures in CEQA litigation. Under current law, there is no public transparency into who is contributing towards CEQA lawsuits. This bill will help curb how CEQA is abused to delay or stop affordable housing projects.

As you wrap up your last term in the Legislature, can you share what you hope to do next? What bill or legislative package are you most proud of, and what do you hope your legacy will be as an East Bay leader?

I want to use my last year to continue to ease the way for affordable housing production. I am carefully considering two measures to reduce the risk that condo developers face. Condos can be an excellent homeownership opportunity for low- and moderate-income buyers, but their construction in California has decreased substantially in recent decades.

I am particularly proud of SCA 9 (2017) which the voters approved to exempt the installation of a rainwater capture system from being subject to property tax increases. SCA 9 incentivizes homeowners to conserve potable water for indoor use while rainwater is used for irrigation and landscaping.

Although it did not pass, I am also proud of my four attempts to increase the renter’s tax credit, which is given to low-income renters and has not been increased in 44 years. I hope a future legislator decides to tackle this important issue so the state can provide more equitable tax relief to renters.

I have not yet decided what I will be doing next, but I do know I want to remain involved in public service and working for my community. As an East Bay leader, I hope I leave behind a legacy of thoughtful governance. Casting a vote on legislation and representing my district is a privilege. Stay tuned to see what the next chapter holds.