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Jewish leaders advocating cap-and-trade funds to build affordable homes

by Joel Simonds and Stephanie Kolin

June 10, 2014 | 11:15 am

<em>Photo by naito8/Shutterstock.com</em>

Photo by naito8/Shutterstock.com

By June 15, the California legislature must resolve a complicated, unprecedented and important issue: lawmakers will have to choose how to spend an estimated $850 million generated in 2014-2015 through California’s Cap-and-Trade program, including whether to just allocate this year’s money or to adopt a long-term spending plan for the years ahead. As Jews, we are called to care for this earth and the people who inhabit it--and it is with this dual responsibility in mind that Reform CA, a campaign of the Reform Jewish Movement in California, urges our lawmakers in Sacramento to allocate a significant percentage of the funds generated this year and in subsequent years to support the building of affordable homes near public transportation.

California’s Cap-and Trade-program, enacted by the legislature and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, limits the amount of greenhouse gases large industries and fuel companies can emit and then allows them to purchase or trade for permits to emit beyond their cap.  Under the law, the funds collected by the state in exchange for those permits must be invested in projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the drivers of climate change. Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Assembly have each advanced their own spending plans for this new pot of money. We believe the State Senate’s plan, which would direct significant Cap-and-Trade funds toward the building of affordable homes near transit as a steady stream of funding between now and 2020 is a just strategy both for the state’s struggling families and for the environment. 

In a recent study, TransForm and California Housing Partnership Corporation (CHPC) predict that if California directs 10 percent of the Cap-and-Trade proceeds generated over the next three years toward the construction of affordable homes in transit-rich areas, it will gain 15,000 new units of affordable homes across the state. Building these homes would also lead to the reduction of the number of miles traveled by cars on the state’s roads and highways by 105 million miles per year.  

Here’s how it works:  Because it is desirable to live near public transit, families with lower incomes are often priced out of these homes.  Higher income families living near transit tend to keep their cars, using public transit only intermittently.  Meanwhile, the displaced lower income families are forced to move far from transit and must continue to use their cars, which are often older and emit more pollution.  However, if affordable homes are built near transit for lower income families, studies show these families prefer to use public transit and will often get rid of their cars.  If they live within a quarter mile of transit, their daily driving is cut in half compared to people who live outside of transit-rich areas.  According to TransForm and CHPC, the net effect on our environment is startling: “Over the 55-year estimated life of these buildings,” they write, “this equates to eliminating 5.7 billion miles of driving off of California roads. That equates to over 1.58 million metric tons of GHG reductions.”

In Genesis, protection of the Earth is placed in our hands; we cannot abdicate our responsibility to protect the Earth in the best ways we know how. That is why we believe that using Cap-and-Trade funds in this way presents us with a powerful opportunity to enable our children and grandchildren to live healthily and securely for generations to come.

Moreover, as a Jewish people whose central narrative is that of wandering without a place to call home, we have a fundamental responsibility to address the suffering that comes when one who seeks shelter can find none.   Roughly one quarter of renters in California pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing, placing them in a category called “severely rent-burdened.”   And about 133,000 people are homeless on any given night in California; 500,000 will be homeless at some point this year.  And yet, state funding for affordable homes has been nearly eliminated:  in 2011, California’s 400 state redevelopment agencies were closed; state housing bonds have dried up.  The result is an unmet need for 1 million affordable homes.  

 So here we are at the nexus of two issues that are felt deeply in the hearts of Jews throughout California: protecting our environment and providing shelter for those who need it most.  What happens this week matters.

Senate President Pro Tem Steinberg and Sen. De Leon have put forth a bold proposal to direct 10 percent of Cap-and-Trade funds toward affordable homes along the lines described above; perhaps most critically, this allocation is not just a one-off, one year decision, but rather makes a long-term commitment, creating a steady stream of funding for affordable homes near transit.  This year, Cap-and-Trade funds amount to approximately $850 million; next year, when fuel producers are included in the program, the pot of money will grow to between $3 billion and $5 billion annually.

While this plan will not solve our housing crisis on its own, we believe it is a key step toward a comprehensive strategy of our state’s investment in addressing this problem.  We, together with other rabbis and leaders of Reform CA, met with our elected officials in Sacramento earlier this month, and applaud Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins’ and Senate President Pro Tem Steinberg’s clear commitment to building affordable homes in California. We are further inspired by Gov. Brown’s courageous leadership on climate issues. 

We know that our elected leaders carry the great burden of making difficult financial choices for our state. We urge them now to make the environmentally and economically just decision to allocate significant Cap-and-Trade revenue for the long-term funding of affordable homes near transit. 

Rabbi Joel Simonds is a rabbi of University Synagogue in Los Angeles and a leader of Reform CA, campaign of the Reform Jewish Movement in California to act for justice in our state in partnership across lines of race, class, and faith. Rabbi Stephanie Kolin is co-director of the Union for Reform Judaism's Just Congregations and lead organizer of Reform CA.

Critical budget decisions will be made by June 15.  Join us by raising your voice and calling Assembly Speaker Atkins (916-319-2078), Governor Jerry Brown (916-445-2841), and Senate President Pro Tem Steinberg (916-651-4006) to ask them to commit to long term Cap-and-Trade allocation for affordable homes near transit. 

For more information, including a guide with suggested talking points to bring up during phone calls, visit RAC.org/ReformCA.

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