Thursday, October 16, 2014

          3L Robert Graham: City Bank Project is Alternate Housing Crisis Fix

          "My upbringing and public interest background has taught me that affordable housing is intertwined with other social and fiscal issues—like a child’s access to quality education and a working family’s ability to earn a living wage."
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          Q: Your practicum for the fall 2014 public law and public policy seminar with Professor Jung and Professor Bonorris involves doing legal research into establishing a municipal bank in the Bay Area. This project, that you're completing with Alyssa Villanueva, is an extraordinary opportunity to have a real-world impact while you’re still in law school. What are the benefits of this proposal?

          A: A municipal bank is a powerful tool for local economic development. The Great Recession left both residents and municipalities hurting financially. A municipal bank would provide an added layer of protection when investing local funds like city employee pension funds. Additionally, providing sub-market interest rate loans to affordable housing developers and small business owners will have far-reaching ripple effects. An increase in the affordable and market rate housing stock will reduce rents and prevent displacement for local individuals and working families. Further, ensuring small business loans are made available will not only allow mom-and-pop shops to stay afloat through hard times, but allow them to expand. Working with local credit unions to provide liquid capital for small business loans will also allow entrepreneurs to start their first businesses.

          Q: How could the bank be established—what would be the political and legal path it would have to take?

          A: Charter cities in California have a number of “home rule” powers constitutionally or legislatively granted upon them by the state. The California Constitution, Article XI, Section 5(b) grants charter cities supreme authority over “municipal affairs.” Municipal affairs include authority to enact local legislation, collect and allocate local revenues, and enter into contracts. Additionally, there is precedent of charter cities in California incorporating private entities that provide public benefits. Without ruining the magic, a municipal bank could be established and funded by local ordinance, ballot initiative, or, in strong mayor cities, by executive order. 

          Q: You had previously worked on affordable housing issues on another project with the Community and Economic Development clinic last year. What happened to the ordinance that you helped to craft with Supervisor Jane Kim?

          A: I had an amazing experience working on the housing balance ordinance with my clinic professor, Ascanio Piomelli, and student partner, Itak Moradi. We worked with a client representing a coalition of affordable housing organizations in San Francisco. As students, we helped research the legality of the housing balance ordinance and crafted some of its statutory language, subject to our client's approval. When it was finalized, Supervisor Jane Kim introduced the ordinance to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The ordinance would have created a 30/70 ratio of all new affordable- to-market-rate development within Supervisor Kim’s district boundaries.

          Understanding the politics of the housing crisis in San Francisco helps explain what happened to the ordinance. The mayor's approach is to build more stock to even out demand and therefore reduce the average rent. Developers are usually held responsible for creating 12% of their new projects in an affordable range.  But there is another approach, which is to build more housing, but increase the percentage of affordable housing available as well. Without enough votes to override a mayoral veto, Supervisor Kim sought an initiative on this November’s general election ballot that would have taken the second approach. However, the mayor proposed a counter-initiative that included a poison pill, voiding Supervisor Kim’s initiative if both passed. Supervisor Kim and Mayor Lee ultimately compromised. Now, the two initiatives mirror one another and ask the city to recommit to the goal of building 30,000 housing units by 2020, with at least 33 percent of those permanently affordable to low and moderate income households.

          Q: Why are you passionate about these issues, and why did you want to work on affordable housing in particular?

          A: As the son of public servants I am dedicated to providing and improving governmental services for all residents. My upbringing and public interest background has taught me that affordable housing is intertwined with other social and fiscal issues—like a child’s access to quality education and a working family’s ability to earn a living wage. Often, society gauges income by whether it is above a certain line, like the area median income, but does not take into account the percentage of monthly income individuals or families pay in rent. Issues like affordable housing are important to ensure that as economic development occurs, individuals and families are not displaced and continue to contribute to the social fabric of our greater Bay Area community. Affordable housing, to me, is just one piece to the bigger picture. I hope my career grants me the opportunity to work on both law and policy that help advance a holistic sense of legal justice.

          Q: What extracurricular activities are you involved with here at UC Hastings?

          A: Currently, I serve as a student representative in the Associated Students of UC Hastings (ASUCH). Last year I was the External Vice President (EVP) of ASUCH and organized the 6@6 alumni-student events. I believe part of being a law student is building both personal and professional relationships with the legal community. ASUCH’s involvement in the alumni-student program has helped connect hundreds of students to alumni practicing law.

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