Photo by Dustin Michelson

This post initially appeared in the June 21 Sacramento Report. Get the Sacramento Report delivered to your inbox.

State Treasurer Fiona Ma is on a mission to update two state housing tax credits so they can deliver more housing at a lower cost.

The former Democratic assemblywoman and her staff visited San Diego on Thursday to get a second round of feedback from more than 70 developers, housing advocates and labor leaders as her office wrestles with changes to tax credits that distribute funding for affordable housing projects.

Ma said she wants to improve those programs to help Gov. Gavin Newsom achieve his target of building 3.5 million new homes statewide by 2025.

At Thursday’s meeting at the San Diego Housing Commission, Ma urged attendees to speak up about potential improvements to her office’s financing programs.

“A lot of state agencies, we wait for you to come see us,” Ma said. “We’re really pushing this out – government to the people.”

Ma shared a PowerPoint presentation with suggestions her office has gotten since it began its listening tour earlier this year.

Ma’s team emphasized it is still collecting feedback and that the policy tweaks presented aren’t necessarily what it plans to pitch. Ma’s team expects to unveil proposed changes late next month and hopes to enact the new policies in 2020.

Tom Lemmon of the county’s construction trades council was the first member of the public to speak at Thursday’s meeting, arguing that Ma’s office should consider requiring prevailing wages for affordable housing projects to get state tax credits. Those requirements hike costs for housing developers.

Deputy Treasurer Jovan Agee didn’t dismiss the idea.

Saving cash in other areas might make it easier to tackle higher labor costs, he said later in the meeting.

“I think we have to move from this idea that in order for all boats to rise, someone has to lose,” Agee said.

Developers spoke up too. John Seymour of National Community Renaissance said he personally supports prevailing wage commitments but noted the increased cost and tradeoffs that can come with them. Seymour also urged Ma to work with her own staff and state housing agencies to push out housing funding opportunities more often.

Developer Ginger Hitzke asked Ma’s office to look at incentives to encourage developers to allow families who move into affordable housing to eventually purchase their homes.

Ma and Agee embraced the suggestion.

“I love your ideas, especially around wealth-building,” Agee told Hitzke. “I think that’s oftentimes a missing piece of the conversation. Again, it’s how do we improve the plight of developers, how do we improve the plight of organized labor, but what about the actual residents?”

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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