Transparency is lacking in ­California’s housing fees

If there’s one thing that you know about my work in Sacramento, I hope it’s how passionately I’ve fought to address our housing and homelessness crisis.

Any solution to this problem is going to involve increasing our housing supply to better meet demand, but how we find ways to build more housing is not so simple. We need to look at the root causes of this problem that has been decades in the making, and that includes looking at the fees placed on new developments.

California’s development fees are nearly three times the national average. Research suggest that these development fees are often passed along to homebuyers, putting homeownership further out of reach for many Californians.

Two years ago, the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley reported that development fees often lack transparency, impose high costs and have arbitrary structures. All of these factors combine to make development riskier and more costly and, ultimately, serve to reduce the amount of housing that gets built.

AB 1483

To address this, I authored and passed legislation, AB 1483, to bring clarity and consistency to the way that local governments make housing data available to the public. The bill required cities and counties to post fee schedules, zoning ordinances, development standards and impact fee nexus studies on their websites. This was a modest but important step to shine some sunlight on the costs levied on new housing in California.

Unfortunately, a report released last month by the non-profit SPUR found that of the 60 jurisdictions they surveyed, fewer than half had comprehensive fee schedules on their websites. More troubling still, only a quarter of the surveyed jurisdictions posted their affordability requirements in an accessible location. This information is critical for developers when trying to determine the size and type of development that is feasible in a given location.

What does all this mean for housing affordability in California? One of the main reasons developers back out of, or relocate, projects is uncertainty. Housing development is a complex dance of planning, financing, logistics, construction and marketing. When developers can’t even find an estimate of what their fees will be, what affordability requirements they must meet or what impacts they will be required to mitigate, they are likely to pull up stakes and move to a friendlier jurisdiction – or state for that matter.

California has one of the lowest homeownership rates in the nation at 53.6 percent, falling almost 10 percent below the national average. The numbers are even worse for Latino and Black residents. In fact, the rate of Black homeownership is lower today than it was in 1960 when racially based housing discrimination was legal. Californians deserve so much better.

Multi-dimensional issue

If we ever hope to tackle this complex and multi-dimensional issue, we need to have basic transparency measures in place so we can fully understand the scope of the problem and develop effective solutions, and we need local jurisdictions to do their part and comply with the law.

This year, I’m continuing my work toward ensuring that fees placed on new development are both transparent and justified. My bill AB 602 will make sure that smaller, more affordable homes pay smaller, more affordable fees, which will lead to more naturally affordable housing across the state.

I can promise that I will continue to propose smart, innovative legislation that works to solve the root causes of our housing, homelessness and affordability crises and to fight hard for policies that will improve the quality of life for all in our community.

Reach Assemblyman Tim Grayson at (925) 521-1511. Visit or write the district office 2151 Salvio Street, Suite P, ­Concord, CA 94520