Affordable Housing Plan Slaps Fee on California Property Owners

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by Phil Hall

The speaker of California’s State Assembly is seeking to raise new funds for affordable housing development by adding a new $75 fee to the costs of recording real estate documents.

Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, stated that the new fee would be a permanent addition to the state’s line-up of fees and taxes and would apply to all real estate documents except those related to home sales. Atkins conspicuously avoided citing the $75 figure in a press statement issued by her office, only briefly identifying it as a “small fee” while insisting that she had broad support for the plan.

“The permanent funding source, which earned overwhelming support from California’s business community, will generate hundreds of millions annually for affordable housing and leverage billions of dollars more in federal, local, and bank investment,” Atkins said. “This plan will reap benefits for education, healthcare and public safety as well. The outcomes sought in other sectors improve when housing instability is addressed.”

Atkins added that her plan should add between $300 million to $720 million a year for the state’s affordable housing endeavors. But Atkins isn’t completely focused on collecting revenue: She is simultaneously proposing that developers offering low-income housing should receive $370 million in tax credits, up from the current level of $70 million.

This is the third time that a $75 real estate transaction fee has been proposed in the state legislature. Earlier efforts were put forward in 2012 and 2013, but failed to gained traction. Previously, opponents to the proposal argued that transactions involving multiple documents would be burdened with excess costs because the fee applies on a per-document basis and not a per-transaction basis.

One of the main opponents of Atkins’ proposal, Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the speaker was playing word games by insisting this was merely a fee and that she was penalizing property owners to finance a problem that they did not create.

“It’s clearly a tax, not a fee,” said Coupal. “There is not a nexus between the fee payer and the public need being addressed. It’s not like charging a polluter a fee for the pollution they caused. It’s a revenue that is totally divorced from the so-called need for affordable housing.”

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