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Legal Alert

California Department of Justice Announces Housing Strike Force

California Department of Justice Announces Housing Strike Force

Key Points

  • The California Department of Justice (DOJ) is preparing for increased enforcement of state housing laws, primarily focusing on local governments.
  • The Housing Strike Force announcement is part of an ongoing trend of the state increasing enforcement of state housing laws.

On November 3rd, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the creation of a “Housing Strike Force” within the DOJ, as part of DOJ’s effort to advance housing access, affordability, and equity in California. The Strike Force will be tasked with enforcing housing laws, including those discussed in earlier articles (October 14, 2021, November 1, 2021), along with tenant rights, mortgage servicing, and consumer protection laws.  

The Justice Department lawyers who will make up the Housing Strike Force are expected to be drawn from the land use and conservation, consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental justice sections of the DOJ, indicating an intersectional approach to housing policy. The Strike Force will also seek input from community groups, beginning with a series of tenant roundtables across the state. Enforcement actions are likely to target cities and counties, rather than individual developers or landlords. The Housing Strike Force will also issue guidance letters to local governments on state housing laws, and the press release for the Housing Strike Force indicated that it will advocate with the state legislature, federal agencies, and other state agencies “to advance a right to housing.” This statement is intriguing given that Governor Newsom recently vetoed a right to housing bill, for being too costly, during the prior legislative session.

The announcement of the Housing Task Force comes at a time when the DOJ is becoming increasingly involved in litigation over state housing laws. In January of 2019, the prior Attorney General Becerra filed suit against the City of Huntington Beach for refusing to comply with state housing law when its City Council voted to block affordable housing from its housing plan. It was the first legal action filed after the California legislature passed AB 72, which authorized the California Department of Housing and Community Development to revoke a city or county’s adopted housing element and refer cases to the Attorney General for litigation. The case settled in 2020, after Huntington Beach adopted a revised housing element that included 502 units of affordable housing. More recently, the DOJ intervened in support of an affordable housing project in the City of San Mateo, resulting in one of the first published opinions to address the enforcement of the Housing Accountability Act and SB 330.

This trend will undoubtedly continue to increase, as the California legislature passed AB 215, effective January 1, 2022, which expands on the changes made by AB 72 to give the DOJ more authority to act on its own to enforce housing laws. If the DOJ refuses to take a case, HCD may appoint or contract with outside counsel to represent HCD in the action or special proceeding.

For more information or questions about housing law and other land use issues, please contact the authors of this alert.

For More Information, Please Contact:

Kaden Sundberg
Kaden Sundberg
San Francisco, CA
Robin Baral
Robin Baral
Senior Counsel
Sacramento, CA