The Sept. 28 signing by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) of bills aimed at addressing the state's need for affordable housing is expected to facilitate construction of millions of new units for low- and middle-income residents and create more than 100,000 union construction jobs. 

 “We estimate 100,000 to 150,000 construction jobs will be needed to meet the state housing goals,” says Pete Rodriguez, executive secretary-treasurer for the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters in Los Angeles and Riverside. “We expect to fill those jobs with our existing workforce along with apprentices who will get a hands-on education and have the ability to continue to build housing for years to come."

Gilead Elias, a project manager at Commercial Contractor Los Angeles (CCLA), says the magnitude of the work generated by the signing of the two bills might spur trade workers to travel from as far as the East Coast. “I think there are a lot of people who want to move to California and I get calls now from people out of state looking for more work,” he says. “It would make sense for them to come here [after the legislation is signed] because there will be so much more work."

Assembly Bill 2011 and Senate Bill 6 both seek to spur residential construction by allowing developers to skip many steps in the local approvals process and by giving certain residential projects a by-right use of land currently zoned for commercial properties, such as offices, retail or parking. AB 2011 allows multifamily housing along commercial corridors with exemptions for the state’s environmental requirements and a time-limited approval process. SB 6 will permit commercial properties – such as big box stores or office buildings – to be used for housing without rezoning.

“The governor’s signature on AB 2011 marks a turning point for California’s housing production needs — no longer will lack of land be an issue," said Buffy Wicks, the Assembly member who authored AB 2011 at the signing ceremony. "No longer will there be a lack of incentive for workers to join the construction workforce."

To make projects possible, developers who use the new laws will also need to use tax credit financing to be successful, Elias says.

 Help is on the way, for some developments. In a related action, Newsom also announced that the state's Dept. of Housing and Community Development is awarding $1.02 billion in funding for the second round of the California Housing Accelerator, which will provide funding to 30 shovel-ready projects that lack financing, stalled because they have been unable to obtain tax credits.

These awards will help get construction underway quickly for 2,755 housing units throughout the state, the majority of which will be for extremely low- to very low-income households and unhoused residents.

Union Focus

Labor unions were closely involved in developing both bills and their support was critical for success. Union support for the measures followed from mechanisms within the legislation that will ensure certain union workers get jobs rather than open-shop labor.

AB 2011 requires that some or all the units in the projects be set aside as affordable and that contractors pay workers on those projects a prevailing wage. SB 6 includes strict labor requirements would require contractors to use a "skilled and trained workforce" — a legal standard that means most of the workers on a job must be union members.

“Prevailing wage requirements in the bills alone create a level playing field,” Rodriguez says. “If a contractor decides they are going to cheat the worker, AB 2011 has a right to a private action for enforcement, which we believe is the strongest labor language in the country.

For developers, the bills offer an opportunity to avoid red tape to develop projects in areas previously out of reach but the labor stipulations may become an obstacle.

“[Legislators] make it too complicated,” says Ken Lowney, president and CEO of Lowney Architecture, Oakland. “They take a good idea and water it down. There is no reason to force you to use prevailing wages.”

Both bills also have requirements for apprenticeships for careers in construction.

“The carpenters union is prepared to organize and take in the workforce that is interested in construction on day one after the governor signs,” Lowney said, before the signing.

Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters has apprenticeship training centers/programs throughout California, where Rodriguez says any unskilled laborers “will get the training they need.” The training will lead them “to be a bona fide apprentice [with] a union job, union wages and union benefits to provide for themselves and their families,” he says.

The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, a labor group with nearly 500,000 members across the state, has long supported SB 6, which was first introduced in 2020. However, the group opposed AB 2011, though it was supported by other unions. The state’s largest labor union, SEIU California, and the California Conference of Carpenters co-sponsored the bill along with the California Housing Consortium, which represents affordable housing developers.

“The best part of the two bills is that the workforce that builds the homes will be able to afford to live in the homes thanks to the labor standards,” Rodriguez says.