Merced County Board of Supervisors mixed on proposed housing bill

Some real estate paperwork would be subject to $75 fee

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar,comApril 24, 2013 

— MERCED -- A state Senate bill proposing a $75 recording fee for most real estate filings, which would go into a state trust fund for affordable housing programs, garnered mixed reactions from the Merced County Board of Supervisors this week.

Supporters of Senate Bill 391, the California Homes and Jobs Act of 2013, say it will help provide resources for affordable housing projects in Merced and other counties.

Funding would come from a $75 fee charged on any real estate document filing, except a property transfer or sale. The money would be deposited in a state trust fund every quarter, then distributed among the 58 counties.

Supervisors did not take a position on the bill Tuesday, instead deferring the item until the next board meeting in May.

District 3 Supervisor Linn Davis said the bill leaves too many unanswered questions, and it's unclear if the county would receive its fair share of funding.

"If we're going to charge people money, then we need to make sure that money is going back to good use in our county," Davis said. "I just want to see where the numbers are going, and it's a question that needs to be answered."

District 5 Supervisor Jerry O'Banion shared Davis' concern that Merced County may not get the funding it deserves, pointing to a similar situation with Assembly Bill 109, the state's prison realignment law.

"AB 109 is an example of not getting our fair share of funding," O'Banion said. "There are unanswered questions, and we need to get additional information."

Maya Abood of the California Coalition for Rural Housing appealed for the supervisors' support during the meeting.

Abood said more than one-third of Merced County homeowners and 56 percent of renters pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, based on 2010 census data.

"This is a housing crisis," she said. "If this doesn't go through, you're guaranteed not to receive funding."

Abood assured board members Tuesday that Merced County will not lose funding to larger counties with more resources. "I'm confident that you'll receive your fair share (of funding)," she said. "There's really no other option."

The money is flexible, Abood said, and can be used for homeless shelters, single-family homes, senior care facilities or first-time homeowner programs. California doesn't have a housing trust fund, she added.

On the flip side, Merced County Recorder Barbara Levey said an additional $75 can be a burden to residents, especially those handling difficult transactions such a foreclosure, refinancing or taking someone's name off a title because of a death.

Levey said the $75 charge is a 750 percent increase from the current base recording fee of $10. A typical refinance, which requires four documents, would cost an additional $300.

"They're trying to refinance to save money and lower their payments, yet this would cost them more money," Levey said. "The fee is also unconnected to the recorder's office, and none of the money is for our services or would stay with the recorder's office."

Chairwoman and District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey acknowledged the challenges the county faces in getting its share of state funding, but was confident Merced could demonstrate its need.

"When you can demonstrate you have need, then you usually get your funding," Kelsey said. "It's a matter of staying on top of advocating for your funding, and I intend to do that."

Kelsey said SB 391 is not the same as AB 109, and pointed to the success of Proposition 1C bond funding, which brought more than $35 million to Merced County.

The Livingston City Council voted unanimously to support SB 391 this month, after it was brought to the council a second time. Livingston Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza declined comment Wednesday.

Gurpal Samra, Livingston mayor pro tem, said he initially opposed the bill, but changed his mind after reassurance from Sacramento politicians that the county would receive the funding it deserves.

"If we can somehow get housing assistance for our folks, every little bit helps." Samra said. "It will be a benefit because it's also going to create constructions jobs and boost the economy."

The Merced County Association of Realtors hasn't taken a stand on the bill, but past president and Realtor Terri Miller believes it creates roadblocks. "We live in a community with double-digit unemployment," she said. "Why would we want to make it even harder for our community?"

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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