State Housing Bill, SB 50, Clears First Major Hurdle, Sailing through Housing Committee


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.

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23 thoughts on “State Housing Bill, SB 50, Clears First Major Hurdle, Sailing through Housing Committee”

    1. Rik Keller

      Yeah, it doesn’t seem to me that the cause of the affordable housing problem in Davis is lack of density in the handful of old neighborhoods near the train station, but instead the more recent decades of approved development at the periphery geared toward large suburban homes for the wealthy.

      1. Mark West

        I think Rik’s assessment here is generally correct, and the situation arises from the five or six decades of concerted effort by our elected representatives to protect two of our most ‘at risk’ constituencies, downtown property owners and residential real estate brokers. Fortunately for all, in recent decades the Councils have been able to increase tax revenues sufficiently to add protections for two other high-risk concerns, protecting the morale of City Employees and buffing the egos of anti-development activists.  It would be a real shame if SB 50 becomes law and we are forced to change our focus from expanding these worthy protections to building appropriate housing instead.

        1. Rik Keller

          Mark West: your tongue in-cheek comment not withstanding, supporters of the bill include many of the types of interests you have named, including:

          – California Association of Realtors
          – California Building Industry Association (CBIA)
          – California Apartment Association
          – California Downtown Association
          – Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce
          – Orange County Business Council (OCBC)
          – Valley Industry Commerce Association

          The following article might give an indication why. Special Report – Selling Out California: Scott Wiener’s Money Ties to Big Real Estate: “Wiener, a one-time San Francisco supervisor, has always relied on campaign contributions from the real estate industry — landlords, developers, real estate attorneys, property management firms, brokers, architects, among others — to get elected and stay in power. That’s particularly true for his seat in the California State Senate. In 2016, he hauled in nearly 700 donations from Big Real Estate totaling $574,276″

        1. Jim Hoch

          So completely different. A small university based town with topography as flat as a plate. The 80 freeway goes north of town so it’s really nothing like Davis where the 80 is in the south part of town.

    1. Mark West

      It is the prevailing attitude of protecting the status quo that SB50 was written to overcome. We are seeing that attitude demonstrated clearly in what is coming out of the new CASP process, where much of the discussion has focused on protecting the character of certain neighborhoods. Perhaps this will stimulate the committee to broaden its approach to evolution.



      1. Rik Keller

        Mark West said “It is the prevailing attitude of protecting the status quo that SB50 was written to overcome.”

        Hmmm, then why are these organizations lining up to support it?. Seems like more of the same old, same old:

        – California Association of Realtors
        – California Building Industry Association (CBIA)
        – California Apartment Association
        – California Downtown Association
        – Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce
        – Orange County Business Council (OCBC)
        – Valley Industry Commerce Association

        1. Rik Keller

          Ron: I can’t see who you are replying to, but I can guess. I didn’t think you meant me.

          I think it’s pretty telling that the same old development interests have lined up to support this. They’ve always been hostile to the idea of planning regulations in the first place and would be happy to set the precedent of eliminating local control.

          While I agree that excessive single family zoning has been a huge barrier to affordable housing, this bill addressing things in a really backwards way. It’s not going to change large suburban single family areas that are located comfortably far away from transit centers.

          “This week, the powerful LA County Democratic Party unanimously opposed SB 50 after days of tense words between party leaders and Wiener…Major media are lagging on this debate. One reporter mistakenly dubbed SB 50 “gentler” than SB 827. It’s far more extreme, stripping cities/counties of zoning and planning powers near transit, good schools and jobs — and transferring that power to individual luxury developers who include a small number of affordable units in their towers. SB 50 was ghost-written by developer lobbyists. Wiener has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from developers and real estate investors.”


          UCLA and London School of Economics Professor Michael Storper: “The core debate in California housing policy is with people who think that untargeted upzoning is a lever that will increase supply in vast metropolitan areas and produce widespread affordability while somehow avoiding the problems of displacement and bad urbanism.

          But affordability and supply are not the same thing. In big, mature metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, affordability has to be produced through active housing market policy. That means directly targeting affordability and access for every group and every mix of housing.

          Bills like SB 827 and SB 50 are essentially about trickle-down economics. The logic is that by creating more aggregate supply, every part of the demand curve—every different group demanding housing—will somehow benefit. I don’t think there’s any evidence in favor of that proposition.”

        2. Rik Keller

          P.S. UC Davis is the most job-rich area in Davis (and has the most transit connections), but I’m pretty sure that SB50 is not going to allow developers to carve out a bunch of land on campus and develop housing towers. Nor are places like Wildhorse or El Macero going to be affected.

    1. Rik Keller

      Ron Oertel said “I suspect that Weiner and Newsom are going to have their hands full, fighting wealthy cities such as Huntington Beach and Beverly Hills.”

      Just like the previous iteration of the bill the main critics include some wealthy communities, but also many equity and anti-gentrification advocates. The California chapter of the American Planning Association has come out against it. I think it’s bad planning policy that co-opts language and sentiment to push developer interests. As the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition & San Francisco Tenants Union posted on social media: “SB 50 is a gentrification time bomb that steals social equity language to fool you. Wiener cares about redlining? Gated communities are still untouched. And 60 percent of Wiener’s luxury units will go into low income neighborhoods according to SF planning.”

  1. Rik Keller

    Since David Greenwald merely published this press release from one side, there is no information about who might have concerns about this legislation. For example, this is letter published March 27th 2019, expresses significant concerns with and has highly detailed recommendations for changes to the legislation:

    It has the following 55 signatories:

    Alliance for Community Transit – Los Angeles
    Asian Pacific Islander Forward Movement
    Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council
    Bend the Arc: Jewish Action of Southern California
    CA Rural Legal Assistance Foundation
    California Environmental Justice Alliance
    California Reinvestment Coalition
    Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy
    Chinatown Community Development Center
    Coalition for Responsible Community Development
    Community Development Technologies
    East Bay Housing Organizations
    East LA Community Corporation
    Esperanza Community Housing Corporation
    Housing California
    Housing Long Beach
    Inner City Law Center
    InnerCity Struggle
    Inquilinos Unidos
    Investing in Place
    Jobs to Move America
    KIWA (Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance)
    LA Forward
    LA Voice
    Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability
    Legacy LA Youth Development Corporation
    Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
    Little Tokyo Service Center
    Los Angeles Black Worker Center
    Move LA
    Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development
    Organize Sacramento
    People for Mobility Justice
    Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles
    Pilipino Workers Center
    Public Advocates
    Public Counsel
    Public Interest Law Project
    Rural Community Assistance Corp.
    SAJE (Strategic Actions for a Just Economy)
    Social Justice Learning Institute
    Southeast Asian Community Alliance
    Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing
    St. John’s Well Child & Family Center
    Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education
    T.R.U.S.T. South LA
    Thai Community Development Center
    The Greenlining Institute
    United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement
    Venice Community Housing
    West Angeles Community Development Corporation
    Western Center on Law and Poverty
    Willowbrook Inclusion Network
    Women Organizing Resources, Knowledge and Services

  2. Rik Keller

    Here are some excerpts from the following article from Housing Is A Human Right (HHR), the housing advocacy division of AIDS Healthcare Foundation: “California’s SB 50, A Luxury-Housing Bill, Is Fundamentally Flawed”

    “California State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 50 is fundamentally flawed. Ultimately, it is a luxury-housing, real estate deregulation bill that doesn’t urgently address a statewide housing affordability crisis that’s unfolding right now. Millions of middle- and working-class Californians, particularly people of color, desperately need stable, affordable housing. Many face the life-altering prospect of becoming homeless.

    Experts and activists agree that any serious, urgent effort to fix California’s housing affordability crisis must include the “3 Ps”: protect tenants through such policies as rent control and just cause eviction; preserve existing affordable housing such as rent-controlled units; and produce truly affordable housing. SB 50 fails to undertake any of these key solutions in an immediate, substantive, and long-term way.

    The real estate industry and its allies — Senator Wiener, California YIMBY, the California Apartment Association, among others — will attempt to confuse the public with “trickle-down” housing theory and talk about a “housing crisis.” But millions of Californians are getting slammed by a very specific emergency: a housing affordability crisis. We don’t need solutions, such as SB 50, that primarily push for more luxury housing.”

  3. Craig Ross

    Rik’s attacks here are most unfortunate.  The problem here is he completely ignores housing as a social justice issue.  It’s easy to talk about redlining and affordable housing, but without a mechanism to finance it, it doesn’t happen and the people who get hurt are the poor not the rich.  The left has belatedly started to recognize that simply attacking developers is to attack the delivery mechanism for housing.

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