SB 50 Clears Hurdle by Passing Senate Governance and Finance Committee

(From Press Release) –  On Wednesday, Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 50 — the More HOMES Act (Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity, and Stability) — cleared the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, with a vote of 6-1. It will now head to the Appropriations Committee for a vote.

At the hearing Senator Wiener and Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) chair of the Governance and Finance Committee announced amendments to fold in portions of SB 4 by Senator McGuire into SB 50. The amendments adopted in committee deal with various portions of SB 50 including re-defining eligible bus lines during peak commute hours, permitting fourplexes by-right statewide, and certain distinctions for counties with less than 600,000 residents. Attached is a summary of the amendments taken at today’s hearing. Senator McGuire will now also co-author SB 50, and SB 4 will not be moving forward.

SB 50 creates new zoning standards for the construction of housing near job centers and public transportation, while protecting against the displacement of renters and vulnerable communities living in those areas. SB 50 eliminates hyper-low-density zoning near transit and job centers, thus legalizing small to mid-size apartment buildings and affordable housing in these locations so that more people can live near transit and near where they work. It also reduces or eliminates minimum parking requirements for new developments.

SB 50 will help relieve California’s acute housing shortage (currently a deficit of 3.5 million homes, equal to the housing deficits of the other 49 states combined), make housing more affordable, increase the supply of low-income housing, and reduce pressure to create more sprawl and build in wildfire zones.  The bill will also reduce carbon emissions by allowing more people to live near transit and near where they work.

“I am thankful to my colleagues and to Senator McGuire for understanding that our housing crisis requires bold action and that SB 50 is part of the solution,” said Senator Wiener. “Today we sent a message that the status quo cannot stand. Our housing crisis hurts families, workers, children, our environment, and the list goes on. For years, we have ignored the steady growth of our crisis. We can no longer afford inaction. SB 50 will help ensure that future generations are able to live in California, will help combat climate change by getting people out of their cars and onto public transit, and will create more equitable communities by allowing affordable housing to be built in neighborhoods with good schools and public investment. The legislative process will continue, but today was a vital and exciting step.”

California is experiencing an unprecedented housing shortage and affordability crisis.  According to the California Housing and Community Development Department, the lack of new housing construction in California has compounded over the last several decades into a shortage of 3.5 million homes. This shortage harms California’s workers and families. They feel the results of this shortage in the form of exorbitant rents and the highest home purchase prices in the nation.  Excessive competition for limited housing supply is also driving a statewide epidemic of displacement, evictions, and homelessness.

California’s failure to allow for enough housing near job centers and public transportation is undermining the state’s climate goals and increasing wildfire risk. By not increasing density around public transportation and near jobs, local governments push residents into longer commutes, leading to greater air pollution.  A November report from the California Air Resources Board explains that “while positive gains have been made to improve the alignment of transportation, land use, and housing policies with state goals, the data suggest that more and accelerated action is critical for public health, equity, economic, and climate success.”  Additionally, a recent federal report indicates that governments are not doing nearly enough to mitigate the effects of climate change and especially greenhouse gas emissions. As we look at the biggest contributors of greenhouses gases in California, private vehicles, remain at the top.  Already we are seeing the economic, environmental, and human health impacts that climate change is inflicting on California. The recent wildfires have claimed thousands of homes, displaced thousands of families, and reduced air quality throughout the state.

Current state law leaves most zoning and land use decisions to local governments, and includes no density standards around public transportation and job centers. Due to a lack of adequate and enforceable statewide standards, most California cities are still operating under outdated and highly restrictive zoning ordinances—frequently banning apartment buildings entirely—that make it difficult or impossible to build multi-family dwellings.

The More HOMES Act eliminates density restrictions for housing near high quality transit and in job-rich areas, in order to ensure that the benefits of public investments in transit are accessible to Californians of all incomes and to enable people to live near where they work. In counties with more than 600,000 residents, sites within ½ mile of fixed rail and ¼ mile of high-frequency bus stops and in job-rich areas will be upzoned. Specifically, within these geographies, a city may not limit density (e.g., banning apartment buildings). Within ½ mile of fixed rail, a city may not impose maximum height limits lower than either 55 feet or 45 feet. (Bus stops and job-rich areas will not trigger height increases; rather local height limits will apply.) SB 50 will also allow for the creation of fourplexes by-right in all California communities, regardless of jurisdiction population.

SB 50 defers to local design standards, inclusionary housing requirements, setback rules, demolition standards (unless they are too weak), and height limits (except near fixed rail stops).

SB 50 also includes the following provisions to protect renters and low-income communities and create more access to publicly funded services:

  • Tenant Protections: Establishes strict tenant protections to ensure long-time residents will not be displaced from their communities, including a prohibition on demolishing buildings currently or recently occupied by renters or where Ellis Act evictions have occurred.
  • Affordable Housing: Establishes affordability standards to ensure that projects are mixed income. The minimum inclusionary zoning requirements range from 15-25% for low-income units, deepening on the size of the project, and includes options to meet the requirement by providing very- or extremely- low-income units.

SB 50 sets minimum inclusionary zoning standards. If a local inclusionary program has requirements in excess of SB 50, the local program applies.

Provides flexibility for developers to pay fees in lieu of building affordable housing on site while requiring that that affordable housing to be built within a ½ mile of the original location or prove that the project is affirmatively furthering fair housing.

  • Sensitive Communities: Allows for delayed implementation in sensitive communities at risk of gentrification and displacement, in order to allow for local planning to reduce displacement. Within the Bay Area, sensitive communities will match the map that was developed and approved with deep regional stakeholder input at CASA, the Committee to House the Bay Area. Outside the Bay Area, the methodology to identify sensitive communities will be a combination of a high percentage of households living under the poverty line and indicators of racial segregation in the census tract.
  • Job-Rich Communities: Proposes “job-rich housing project” incentive to ensure that communities with easy access to jobs and in neighborhoods with high-performing public schools allow a broader range of housing choices for people of all income levels, even in the absence of high-quality transit.

The More HOMES Act was introduced on December 3 when the Legislature reconvened for the 2019-2020 legislative session.  For the full text of SB 50 please click here.

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