Court Rules that California Charter Cities Must Prioritize Surplus Public Land for Affordable Housing Development
Oakland, CA – On November 26, 2019, California’s Sixth Appellate District Court of Appeal issued a decision in Anderson v. City of San José—a case that has profound implications for the affordable housing crisis throughout California. The Appellate Court ruled that San José is not exempt from complying with the Surplus Land Act—a state law that requires local governments to prioritize affordable housing when disposing of surplus government land. This ruling will affect all 121 charter cities in California, which include the largest metropolitan areas in the state.
“Our low-income clients celebrate the court’s ruling at a moment when displacement and the lack of affordable housing in our state have reached crisis proportions.”
– Rebekah Evenson, Director of Litigation and Advocacy at Bay Area Legal Aid
Low-income San José residents Sarah Anderson and Joana Cruz, and nonprofit organizations Urban Habitat Program and Housing California brought this case in 2016 to challenge San José’s adoption of a policy that conflicts with the Surplus Land Act, and to enforce legal protections for the development of affordable housing. San José’s refusal to abide by state affordable housing law would have caused disproportionate harm to low-income residents, many of whom are people of color, and many of whom have already been priced out of the city.
“The justices recognized that ‘public land for public good’ isn’t just a slogan, it’s the law of the land in California. Every city can and must prioritize its surplus land for homes affordable to lower-income families.”
– Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, Deputy Managing Attorney at Public Advocates Inc.
The superior court had ruled in December 2016 that the Surplus Land Act does not apply to charter cities. This Appellate Court ruling reverses this decision, holding that the shortage of sites available for affordable housing is a matter of statewide concern, and that San Jose must follow state affordable housing law.
“This should nip in the bud the view of some charter cities that, unlike the rest of the cities in California, they can ignore their obligation to make surplus public land available for affordable housing.”
– Michael Rawson, Director of the Public Interest Law Project
Changes to county policy means thousands in Riverside County, particularly adults experiencing homelessness, can now access vital cash benefits
Riverside, CA — A settlement has been reached with Riverside County in Isabel Bojorquez, et al. v. County of Riverside, et al., a lawsuit filed on behalf of three General Assistance (GA) recipients to change policies under the county’s GA program. GA is the program of last resort for the poorest Californians – indigent residents who cannot qualify for other benefit programs.
The settlement includes an agreement by the county to end its prior illegal policy limiting homeless recipients to six months of housing assistance payments. The county will now only end housing assistance payments if the recipient declines an offer of available shelter without a good reason.
“People experiencing the kind of poverty that qualifies them for General Assistance usually have little to no resources. General Assistance can be vital for a person’s ability to rent a room or find a motel where they can sleep,”
– Alex Prieto, Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty
Riverside County has agreed to issue guidance to workers and train them on the county’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities. The county will also review previous applications for a limited period and issue retroactive payments to anyone denied under the former policy.
“I’m hopeful that this outcome in Riverside will prompt other counties to revisit their policies and approach to General Assistance as well,”
– Anthony Kim, Attorney at Inland Counties Legal Services, Inc.
In response to litigation pressure and across two previous mediation sessions, Riverside has made numerous other improvements to county policy. To date, the county has raised GA grant amounts, raised resource limits, simplified application processes, issued guidance regarding due process, and ended a policy that required employable recipients to re-apply for benefits every month, even though their circumstances were unchanged.
“Increasing General Assistance across the board in California counties, and simplifying the process for people to access it, could provide a significant stop-gap in our state’s battle against homelessness and increasing poverty. This is a good example of the kinds of things counties can do, ideally without the need for litigation, to curb deep poverty in their jurisdictions.”
– Laren Hansen, Staff Attorney at Public Interest Law Project
Oakland renters who need to live in accessible units are either shut out of the City’s rent control protections entirely, or forced to live in inaccessible units. Please contact DRA if you are in either situation, we want to hear from you! Contact DRA at 510-665-8644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On August 28, 2019 – Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and PILP filed a class action lawsuit alleging that people with disabilities are discriminatorily excluded from Oakland’s rent stabilization program (also known as rent control). Oakland’s rent control program covers approximately 60% of the City’s rental properties, providing meaningful protection from rapidly rising rents, for those who reside in these protected properties. However, people with mobility disabilities are uniquely barred from this protection; Oakland’s program exempts every building constructed after January 1, 1983, from its coverage—yet laws establishing accessibility standards about essential features like stair-free entryways and grab bars went into effect years after that date. As a result, nearly every accessible rental unit in Oakland is excluded from the City’s rent control program.
“I used to live in a more accessible apartment, but I had to leave when the rent started to go up faster than I could afford. I was fortunate to find an inaccessible rent-stabilized unit that I could work with—more or less—but it’s not always easy, and I worry that I’m only one injury away from not being able to do it at all.”
– Plaintiff Mitch Jeserich
To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Oakland must modify its rent stabilization program so that people who need accessible housing can access the same benefits that the city affords to its nondisabled renters, on the same terms. Because the requirements of the federal ADA supersede state law, Oakland must modify its program even if California’s Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which imposes limitations on local rent control policies, would not otherwise allow it.
“Renters with disabilities across Oakland are harmed by the lack of accessible units covered by the city’s rent stabilization program. I worry that many have already been forced out of the City because they need to live in accessible units and, as a result, have no opportunity to access rent stabilization.”
– Sean Betouliere, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates
This lawsuit comes at a dire time for Oakland renters. Average market-rate rents in Oakland have almost doubled over the past decade; in the past year alone, the median price for a one-bedroom apartment has increased by nearly 13 percent. Because they are denied the protections of Oakland’s rent stabilization program, people with disabilities who need accessible housing are especially susceptible to these skyrocketing rents.
“For many tenants, rent stabilization is the difference between having or not having a place to live in Oakland and in other communities with rent control. The blanket exclusion from Oakland’s rent stabilization program of all units built less than 36 years ago effectively denies a person needing to live in an accessible unit from protections of the program. We hope that this litigation will make Oakland’s rent control program more accessible to tenants with disabilities.”
– Michael Rawson, Director of the Public Interest Law Project
On July 12, 2019, the Northern District of California entered a stipulated preliminary injunction in Vannucci v. County of Sonoma, Case No. 3:18-cv-01955-VC, a civil rights lawsuit brought in spring of 2018 by homeless individuals and the advocacy organization Homeless Action! against the City of Santa Rosa, the County of Sonoma, and the Sonoma County Community Development Commission regarding Defendants’ enforcement of anti-camping laws against homeless persons without first offering adequate shelter that met their disability-related needs.
“This stipulated preliminary injunction will help to protect the rights of homeless individuals with disabilities, and to promote meaningful access to homeless services in Sonoma County.”
– Melissa Morris, staff attorney at the Public Interest Law Project.
The injunction, which applies to enforcement actions against homeless persons living on public property within the city of Santa Rosa (including County owned property within Santa Rosa, will be in effect August 12, 2019, through June 30, 2020. It requires that, before the City or County takes an enforcement action against a homeless individual who has established a dwelling outdoors, they must first provide that individual reasonable notice and make an offer of adequate shelter. The injunction defines adequate shelter based on a variety of factors, including an individual’s specific, disability-related needs, their having a service animal or pet, their gender, and their religious or ethical beliefs.
“Criminally punishing homeless individuals for sleeping on the street when they have nowhere else to go is inhumane. This agreement will help to ensure that the City and County will offer adequate placements instead of simply arresting and citing people for camping or conducting other life sustaining activities which they must do in order to survive.”
– Adrienne Lauby, a founding member of Homeless Action!
Adequacy will also depend on the conditions of the facility, including a requirement that the shelter be immediately available for 30 consecutive days or more, and that the shelter must be open both days and nights. The injunction also establishes requirements for the preservation and storage of homeless individuals’ personal property, including a prohibition against destroying homeless individuals’ unattended (as opposed to abandoned) property and a requirement to store personal property for 90 days.
PILP, along with California Rural Legal Assistance, represents Plaintiffs Nicholle Vannucci, Ellen Brown, Shannon Hall, and Homeless Action!
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With the generous donations and grants we receive, PILP is able to ‘Advance justice for low-income people and communities.’
We would like to recognize and thank the following organizations and partners for their continued support:
- The San Francisco Foundation
- The State Bar of California
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- Walter S. Johnson Foundation
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The California State Bar has released the Legal Aid Impact Report, reporting on cases closed in 2017
The California State Bar is excited to share the Legal Aid Impact Report. The report is based on the first full year of statewide outcome data collected for cases closed in 2017.
“Increasing access to the legal system is core to our mission, and we are proud to support the dedicated, life-changing work of the legal aid community, not only with grant dollars but with collaborative efforts such as this groundbreaking report,” said Leah T. Wilson, Executive Director of the State Bar of California. “Legal aid serves millions of Californians, improves communities, and provides economic benefits to the state that we are only beginning to measure.”
The State Bar awarded over $37 million in legal aid grants in 2017. This report focuses broadly on outcomes achieved in 2017 by these grantees in serving low-income Californians, regardless of the source of funding, including their State Bar grant as well as other private and public funds.
Michael Rawson, Director of The Public Interest Law Project stated “It is amazing that legal services programs in California can achieve these results with so little resources. But, with entrenched segregation and the torrent of gentrification and displacement, programs remain vastly under-resourced to meet the burgeoning need.”
The report spotlights outcomes and client stories about legal aid in the areas of health, domestic violence, housing and homelessness, justice in the workplace, immigration and immigrant rights, consumer protection, seniors, children, people with disabilities, veterans, and disaster response.
“There are so many benefits of legal representation that cannot be quantified, but this report shows that legal aid has a tremendous impact on the lives of the most vulnerable residents in California. With approximately 8,000 low-income persons for every one legal aid lawyer, we need to keep fighting to increase access to these critical resources,” said Lauren Hansen, Staff Attorney at PILP overseeing public benefits cases.
By providing free legal assistance to low-income Californians, legal aid providers meet basic needs like food, shelter, and safety, help individuals in crisis, address systemic inequities and revitalize communities. Legal aid intervention can help keep a family intact and in their home, help an individual remain employed or in school, and improve health outcome.
Established as a statewide support center, The Public Interest Law Project (PILP), is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that provides litigation support, policy advocacy, consultation and training for legal services and other public interest law programs throughout California. PILP is recognized throughout California and nationally for the expertise it brings to public benefits, affordable housing, civil rights, and redevelopment law.
Read the full California Legal Aid 2017 Impact Report.
California Joins Kennedy Commission in Legal Action Against the City of Huntington Beach Over Its Unlawful Housing Plan
The state will file companion litigation against the City of Huntington Beach accusing it of willfully refusing to comply with state housing law
January 25, 2019 – Kennedy Commission and low-income veterans, represented by The Public Interest Law Project, Public Law Center, Legal Aid Society of Orange County, and Jones Day have been pursuing litigation to require Huntington Beach to make sites available for affordable housing since 2015. Today, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the state will launch a new, strong approach to enforce state law against a city, using AB 72 to sue the City of Huntington Beach for violating state housing law.
The state accuses the City of standing in the way of affordable housing production and looks to force the City to amend its housing plan to encourage “the development of additional housing units that are accessible to residents of all income levels.”
The Governor approved legal action against Huntington Beach and Attorney General Xavier Becerra will file a lawsuit against the City on Friday, January 25, 2019, after extensive attempts to offer partnership and support from the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
PILP Staff Attorney Craig Castellanet, commented on Governor Newsom’s announcement, “We applaud the Governor for making enforcement of state housing law a priority for his administration. We welcome the state’s participation in this effort to address our state’s affordable housing crisis.”
Read Governor Gavin Newsom’s full press release.