Investments Increase Affordable Housing, Farmland Protection But Pandemic Threatens to Undermine Efforts

Posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2020 by Jeanne Merrill

As legislative leaders have returned to Sacramento and begin to address the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) today released its report, “Resilient California: Economic recovery and climate resilience through smart growth strategies, a review of state programs.” The report provides an overview of the past six years of state climate investments in land-use strategies aimed at increased in-fill development and related greenhouse gas emission reductions.

The report also reviews how the pandemic has laid bare the vulnerabilities of the state’s communities that face overcrowded housing, faltering public transit systems and repercussions throughout the economy that threaten to undermine the state’s efforts to develop more resilient communities.

“We found that the state’s investments in two important smart growth programs have brought tangible benefits to communities in 47 of the state’s counties,” said Jeanne Merrill, Policy Director with CalCAN and one of the report’s authors. “But the coronavirus pandemic threatens to undermine the state’s smart growth efforts, and more is needed to bring a regional approach to these investments that provide the housing, public transit, jobs and food security Californians need.”

Since 2014, the state of California has invested approximately $1.8 billion in two smart growth/climate investment programs – the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) Program and the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) Program. Together the two programs have helped fund over 10,000 affordable housing units and permanently protect more than 100,000 acres of agricultural land at risk of sprawl. Together, the programs have reduced over 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

As originally envisioned, the two programs would work in concert to support a land-use strategy of increased affordable housing, transit and farmland protection. However, the report authors found that only 32 percent of the funded counties had both AHSC and SALC funded projects and that the state has not yet realized the original vision of the two programs working in concert to shift away from California’s sprawl development patterns.

“It is critical that our climate resilience and economic recovery efforts in California work together to restore the health and well-being of all communities, especially low-income and BIPOC communities, so California can deliver on the promises of equitable and sustainable communities for everyone,” said Chanell Fletcher, Executive Director of ClimatePlan.

The report authors found that more technical and financial assistance is needed in the Central Valley to support the region in moving away from sprawl development. For example, only one-fifth of AHSC funding has gone to Central Valley cities and towns. In contrast, 70 percent of AHSC funding has supported Bay Area and Southern California affordable housing projects. Moreover, some of the largest agricultural counties in the Central Valley, including Fresno, Kern, Kings and Stanislaus counties, have not received SALC funding to permanently protect agricultural land.

“We are seeing a growing interest in the Central Valley to change our development patterns and support more compact, affordable development that also recognizes the importance of protecting our agricultural lands,”  said Adam Livingston, Director of Planning and Policy with the Sequoia Riverlands Trust. “But if we are to make a difference on these issues in the next few years, we must scale up state resources in the Valley.”

A copy of the Resilient California report can be found here.

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