Gov. Gavin Newsom visited San Diego Wednesday to sign a new state law that boosts funding for free legal assistance to help people facing evictions and foreclosures.
The law, SB 331, also aims to boost housing production statewide by giving the state attorney general power to force cities and counties to have blueprints for housing production that meet state goals.
Newsom said the new law, combined with separate rent control legislation he signed Tuesday, is part of an aggressive push to reduce the statewide scarcity of affordable housing.
“The California Dream is predicated on social mobility, and we have to address the issue of affordability if we’re going to maintain and enliven that dream in the state of California,” Newsom said during a news conference at San Diego’s Legal Aid Society.
The law, which was approved by the state Senate in April and the state Assembly last month, puts $331 million California received from the National Mortgage Settlement into a special trust fund.
Similar to an annuity, the fund will generate millions of dollars each year that will be distributed to Legal Aid Societies and similar organizations across the state, guaranteeing them a minimum level of funding.
“We have to make sure programs like this have the resources to keep people in their homes before they end up on the streets and sidewalks,” Newsom said. “And we have to make sure that people who have been victims of predatory lending and unscrupulous practices have the support, knowledge and capacity to work themselves out of those arrangements.”
Newsom was praised at the news conference for coming up with the trust fund idea. State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said legal aid to low-income residents is crucial.
“This is a significant and ongoing investment that the state is making to address struggling homeowners and renters,” Atkins said.
Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, said the law addresses two important goals.
“Today’s action will go a long way to protecting homeowners and to protecting tenants, while simultaneously ensuring that we are building the housing that we need across California,” said Gloria, who described himself as one of the few renters in the state Legislature.
Gloria said he fully supports state efforts to make sure cities and counties build what he called their fair share of needed new housing.
“Every community must do its fair share,” Gloria said.
Newsom said he understands backlash from residents of cities that don’t want to meet their state housing goals because they fear more units will damage community character but, he stressed, that’s not an option.
“We need to hold folks accountable,” the governor said.
On the trust fund for legal help, some critics say it would be more appropriate to dole out the $331 million to victims of the national mortgage crisis.
Newsom said it makes more sense to use the money to guarantee long-term funding for organizations that help victims of the housing market.
He said the trust will be particularly important during the next economic downturn, when the state Legislature will likely cut funding for legal aid organizations.
“This is a way of locking in and protecting ourselves from that downturn and making sure — when that money is needed the most— it will be available,” Newsom said.
The state Judicial Council now provides grants to more than 100 legal aid organizations offer counseling, consultation, mediation, training and legal representation for people coping with evictions or foreclosures. The trust fund money will increase that funding.
via San Diego Union Tribune