Senate Bill 50 legalizes more housing near job centers and public transportation by overriding hyper-restrictive low-density zoning, while protecting against displacement of renters and vulnerable communities
(From Press Release) – Today, Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 50 — the More HOMES Act (Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity, and Stability) — cleared its first committee, the Senate Housing Committee, with a vote of 9-1. It will now head for a hearing in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee in the coming weeks. 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.
“Today we took an important step toward addressing California’s severe housing crisis,” said Senator Wiener. “We need bold ideas that will have a real impact on our 3.5 million home deficit. SB 50, in combination with other strong housing proposals, will help move the dial. California’s housing shortage is threatening our environment, economy, diversity, and quality of life. We must reform how we approach housing and, once and for all, elevate housing to a top priority. I want to thank my colleagues for passing the bill out of committee, and I look forward to continued collaboration with colleagues and stakeholders to craft a strong and effective zoning reform bill.”
San Francisco Mayor London Breed stated, “San Francisco, along with the entire Bay Area, needs to create more housing if we are going to address the out of control housing costs that are causing displacement and hurting the diversity of our communities. I have seen too many people I grew up with pushed out of San Francisco because we have not built enough housing, especially affordable housing, throughout our entire City.”
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg added: “I strongly support the concepts outlined in SB 50 because cities throughout California are in the midst of a housing affordability crisis and we need tools that allow us to meet our housing demands. Recent state reports demonstrate cities are falling well short of the housing, climate and sustainable transit goals California committed to in SB 375, legislation I authored in 2008. Senator Weiner’s legislation provides a vital tool for local governments to meet those goals.”
A number of groups are also supporting SB 50.
Amie Fishman, Executive Director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California: “NPH is pleased to continue partnering with Senator Wiener to increase access to safe, stable, affordable homes and strengthen our communities. NPH is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 50 because it creates new housing near transit, increases affordable housing opportunity in historically exclusionary communities, and provides critical tenant protections. This bill supports our commitment to producing, protecting, and preserving affordable opportunities for our most vulnerable community members.”
Nancy McPherson, AARP California State Director: “AARP members are increasingly drawn to our urban cores to enjoy the proximity of services and the walkability of our urban neighborhoods — and we want to help ensure there are enough affordable housing options to accommodate them. But many older adults who can afford to stay in California are seeing family members, close friends, and caregivers leave the state due to the high cost of housing. We’re hopeful that the More HOMES Act will help correct this and provide more housing stability for Californians of all ages.”
Amanda Eaken, Director of the Transportation and Climate Program at Natural Resources Defense Council: “SB 50 is designed to help ensure that California’s current and future housing needs are met in ways that address the soaring demand to live near public transportation and jobs, while assisting the state achieve our climate goals.”
Vignesh Iyer, UCSA Student Basic Needs Officer, and Second-Year Student at UC Santa Cruz: “California’s students have been amongst the worst affected by the alarming housing crisis across the state. “This is especially the case for students living in Santa Cruz: the 4th worst housing market in the world. Addressing this crisis needs to be accompanied by bold policies that tackle fundamental impediments to accessible housing. This is why SB 50 is a necessary solution. It takes on the challenge of revising outdated zoning codes, and replaces it with progressive and pragmatic new policies that champion affordable housing in the state. The UC student association stands in strong support of this important bill. SB 50 is a huge help for our relative academic success as students not just enrolled full-time, but also as individuals working 2, sometime 3 jobs to afford big non-tuition costs like housing.”
Mary Creasman, Chief Executive Officer of the California League of Conservation Voters: “Building denser and more affordable housing close to public transportation is key to reducing pollution and improving the health of our communities and the quality of our lives. An integrated approach to land use is necessary in the face of increased climate impacts, and CLCV is proud to conditionally support this legislation, and work alongside the author and other stakeholders, to ensure green infrastructure and adaptation best practices are included along with robust affordable housing and anti-displacement standards.”
Maureen Sedonaen, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco: “Working families are under immense pressure in the Bay Area. The housing and affordability crisis they are facing demands an urgent response that will have a real impact. Updating zoning standards to allow higher density housing on transit corridors would be just what the doctor ordered. Habitat urges all legislators interested in helping build more safe and decent homes for Californians to support SB50.”
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. It applies these standards to sites within ½ mile of fixed rail and ¼ mile of high-frequency bus stops and in job-rich areas. 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 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.