2023 Legislative Debrief: Wins and Setbacks for Californians with Extremely Low Incomes

By Susannah Parsons, All Home

New faces, leadership transitions, and budget challenges made the 2023 legislative session an interesting, and often unpredictable one. In an incredible case of budget whiplash, 2022’s unprecedented surplus was followed by a major budget deficit this year. After adding 31 new members, the 2023 California Legislature had an all-time high of LGBTQ, women, and Latino lawmakers, making it the most diverse in our state’s history. We also saw the most legislation introduced in over a decade, with 2,632 bills proposed.

All Home’s priority bills were concentrated on four main focus areas: housing, homelessness, economic security, and economic mobility. The legislation we sponsored and supported would address homelessness at the root, by making it faster and easier to scale new affordable housing, protect tenants, and provide the wages and support for people with extremely low incomes to thrive. How did things shake out? Let’s take a look.

Progress on housing streamlining and tenant protections 

In the last few years, legislators have focused on bills that make it faster and easier to develop critically needed affordable housing, and this session extended that progress. In particular, 

  • SB 423 (Wiener) streamlines the approval of affordable housing projects and requires prevailing wages for construction workers. This bill extends a previous law (SB 35 – Wiener) that has helped speed the construction of 18,000 affordable units across the state since 2017. 
  • SB 4 (Wiener) streamlines the process for religious organizations and nonprofit colleges to develop affordable housing on their property regardless of local zoning restrictions. SB 4 is estimated to unlock 171,000 acres of potentially developable land for affordable housing in California.
  • AB 1449 (Alvarez) exempts certain 100% affordable housing projects from CEQA while ensuring rigorous labor and environmental standards. 

New affordable housing is necessary, but keeping renters in their homes is an essential component of preventing homelessness. As introduced, SB 567 (Durazo) would have reduced the state’s annual allowed rent increase down to 5%, created enforcement mechanisms for the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, extended just cause eviction protections to tenants in their first year in the unit, and limited the use of a just cause eviction based on owner move-ins, substantial rehabilitation, or removal of the unit from the rental market. Despite significant pressure from the California Apartment Association that watered down the final bill, SB 567 will close two major loopholes on owner move-in evictions and evictions for unit demolitions and rehab. 

Evictions are on the rise across California. Enforcing existing law and expanding protections will be critical next year and beyond. 

Unfinished business

Despite these wins, California has no ongoing source of state funding for affordable housing, and current bond funding is expected to run out by 2024. Cities and counties need dedicated resources to prioritize housing for the most vulnerable residents, but the existing requirement of a two-thirds majority vote for local housing measures is too high. 

Thanks to a major coalition effort at the end of session, voters will now be able to restore the power of the people to enable affordable housing production. If passed at the ballot next year, ACA 1 (Aguiar-Curry) would lower the voter threshold for local general obligation bonds or sales taxes that finance affordable housing, permanent supportive housing, and infrastructure improvements from two-thirds to 55%. Requiring a supermajority on these decisions has fueled the housing crisis by blocking vital infrastructure—lowering the threshold is a good government reform to restore balance. This change would also make it easier to pass the regional housing bond that will also be on the ballot in the Bay Area in November 2024. 

Accountability dominated the debate around homelessness. 

Legislators and the Governor focused on bills that would ensure state and local homelessness funding was spent effectively, though perspectives differed widely on how to implement accountability reforms. 

Many of the ideas All Home worked on were incorporated into the Fiscal Year 23-24 State Budget, which provided $1 billion for a fifth round of the Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention (HHAP) program. In particular, HHAP Round 5 focuses on increased regional collaboration and laying out defined and agreed-upon roles and responsibilities across the homelessness response system. 

But still, tens of thousands of Californians are experiencing the crisis of being unhoused, it’s getting worse faster than it’s getting better, and no legislation passed that would have created a dedicated, ongoing source of funding to address homelessness at scale. Another disappointment, AB 1085 (Maienschein) would have required the Department of Healthcare Services to seek federal approval for a permanent Medi-Cal benefit that covers housing support services – unlocking a significant source of health care funding for housing interventions that serve people experiencing homelessness. It was vetoed by the Governor, citing budget concerns. We have much more collective work to do on the systems-level changes that are needed to end homelessness. 

Major safety net programs preserved despite a poor budget outlook

Despite facing a $32 billion budget deficit, the legislature avoided cuts to critical safety net programs like CalWORKs and SSI that help extremely low-income Californians meet their basic needs. And some important progress was still made: Legislators permanently increased CalWORKs grants and further reduced child care copayments. After years of negotiations, a new tax on health plans passed, which will raise an estimated $11 billion to support the Medi-Cal system, increase reimbursement rates to Medi-Cal providers, and expand access to health care.  

This session, All Home sponsored AB 441 (Haney) that would have increased the poverty-reducing impact of refundable tax credits by distributing the CalEITC, Young Child Tax Credit, and Foster Youth Tax Credit as monthly payments. This bill encountered stiff resistance from the Administration, while two other bills to increase access to tax credits, SB 565 (Caballero) and AB 1002 (Irwin), passed the Legislature but were vetoed by the Governor. Next year we’ll continue to push for smart reforms that increase the reach and impact of existing benefits.  

Workers notch some big wins

Homelessness is also a poverty issue, and increasing the economic mobility of California residents is necessary to solve it. While SB 686 (Durazo), which would have established health and safety protections for domestic workers under California’s Occupational Safety and Health Act, was vetoed, we’re celebrating several important wins for labor power, particularly for people in extremely low-wage work.   

Against the backdrop of labor strikes across the state and country this year, AB 1228 (Holden) established a Fast Food Council to oversee health, safety, wages, and employment standards across the industry, and increased the minimum wage for fast food restaurant workers to $20/hr. SB 525 (Durazo) establishes a $25 minimum wage for virtually all healthcare workers in hospital and clinical settings, including housekeepers, gift shop workers, technicians, groundskeepers, and others. With the cost of living continuing to rise, these labor protections and higher wages are a step towards a Bay Area where workers can afford to thrive. 

What’s next?  

Despite a budget deficit and headwinds against policies that support Californians with the lowest incomes, we’re proud of the progress made this year. We’re deeply grateful for the support our partners provided on AB 441 and our other priorities. As we look towards 2024, there will be important ballot campaigns, new leadership in the legislature, and likely another difficult budget year. All Home will be focused on ACA 1 and local and state revenue measures, while protecting critical programs and laying the groundwork for ambitious future work on housing, the safety net, and more. 

For a complete list of our priority bills and to learn more about our support of them, check out our Policy & Advocacy page.