Tuesday was a big day for housing reform in California as a number of bills passed through the Senate Housing Committee including ones that deal with density bonuses, grow the housing supply, expand affordable housing options for California family, and make homeless shelters easier to build.
SB 1085 increases the effectiveness of California’s density bonus law so that more builders incorporate affordable housing units in their market-rate projects.
SB 902 creates a powerful, new streamlined tool for cities to zone for more housing (up to 10 unit buildings) in transit-connected areas.
SB 899 allows churches, places of worship, and other nonprofits – like colleges and hospitals – to build 100% affordable housing on their land even if local zoning doesn’t currently allow for it.
SB 1138 requires cities to zone for homeless shelters in areas that are accessible to services and that can actually be utilized. Currently, too many cities zone for shelters in remote areas or on land that’s already developed and thus unavailable.
SB 1085, authored by Senator Nancy Skinner, , modifies the state’s density bonus law to incentivize the construction of more moderately priced housing for teachers, first responders, and other Californians who can’t afford today’s sky-high prices, as well as the creation of more housing for very-low-income Californians and low-income college students.
“With the Covid-19-induced economic downturn, California’s housing crisis is worse than ever. SB 1085 will help us build more housing that people can afford by establishing new incentives to create homes for middle-income earners, low-income residents, and college students,” Sen. Skinner said.
Meanwhile three other bills were authored by Senator Scott Wiener, who chairs the Senate Housing Committee. All of these bills head to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
SB 899, SB 902, and SB 1138 together will help alleviate California’s intertwined housing shortage and homelessness crisis; SB 902 and 899 will help significantly increase housing supply by easing arduous zoning restrictions (and specifically affordable housing supply in the case of SB 899), and SB 1138 will close loopholes in housing law to require cities and counties to zone for and allow shelters for homeless individuals so they can access critical services and get connected to permanent housing.
Senator Wiener believes all three have new relevance in light of the COVID-19 crisis, in which we’ve seen a significant increase in unemployment and financial and housing insecurity across the state.
California already had a 3.5 million homes shortage and housing affordability crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic, and now faces an even greater challenge: providing people with housing they can afford, keeping people stably housed, and getting people living on the streets safely sheltered during. SB 899, 902 and 1138 will help spur increased housing supply, shelter access, and affordable housing production.
“California has a severe housing shortage and homelessness crisis, and COVID-19 has made the crisis even worse,” said Senator Wiener.
In the meantime, supporters of affordable housing, believe that one that California has to help build more affordable housing is the state’s density bonus law. It allows developers to increase the size of a project by up to 35%, depending on the number of affordable units being constructed. But the law does not apply to moderately priced rental housing.
During the past decade, California’s housing market has become unaffordable for both for low-income residents and the middle class. According to a January report from the Public Policy Institute of California, the state has six of the nation’s 15 most-expensive large rental markets: San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Orange County, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Since 2015, rents have soared up to 60% in these areas.
California has not only failed to build enough housing to meet demand, but new market-rate housing is often too expensive for most people, including middle-income earners in high-cost areas. According to a 2019 report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, about 1 million households that are at or above California’s median income are considered “cost burdened,” because they pay more than 30% of their incomes on housing.
In addition, in many areas of the state, the density bonus law has either not been utilized at all or for only a few projects. According to a 2018 report by UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, less than half of California’s cities and counties have approved a new housing project that used the density bonus, and most of those jurisdictions have only had one or two projects.
SB 1085 seeks to improve the effectiveness of the density bonus law and expand its use by allowing rental housing developers to increase the size of their projects by 35% if at least 20% of the units are moderately priced — that is, the rent for those units is 30% below the market rate for that particular area.
The bill would also establish more incentives for the construction of affordable housing for very-low-income Californians and for affordable student housing.
Finally, SB 1085 would bar cities and counties from levying impact fees on a housing development’s affordable units, and it would make it harder for cities and counties to reject density bonus projects.
“During these difficult economic times, it’s imperative that we find creative solutions to our most critical problems without impacting our budget. SB 1085 is one such solution because it will help California build more housing that people can afford, and without any cost to the state,” Skinner said.
Of the new bills, SB 902 is similar to the recently failed SB 50.
According to Senator Wiener, SB 902 would create a powerful new tool for cities to quickly upzone infill and non-sprawl areas (areas that are connected to commercial corridors and jobs via transit or walking, and would not create new development on greenfields) to as many as 10 units per parcel.
By allowing cities to choose to zone for up to 10 units per parcel without CEQA, SB 902 will make it possible for cities to quickly zone for and then build significantly more housing in a way that works in accordance with local needs. SB 902 is a key part of President Pro Tempore Senator Toni Atkins’ (D-San Diego) package to address California’s housing crisis. It passed by a vote of 9-0.
“Now is the time to move forward aggressively with a pro-housing strategy that ensures all Californians have an affordable place to live,” Senator Wiener said. “The Senate is advancing a robust pro-housing legislative package, and I’m honored to be part of it. These bills help by empowering cities to quickly zone for more density in a sustainable way and opening up significant new land for affordable housing construction.
“In addition, the legislation closes loopholes that prevent California from having enough shelter capacity for our growing homeless population. These bills, in combination, represent a meaningful step in addressing a terrible problem facing our state”