Senator Wiener Introduces Four Bills to Spur Housing Production and Address California Housing Crisis

By David M. Greenwald

As California’s Housing Crisis continues, Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco has introduced four bills as part of the Senator’s 2021 housing package.

The Senator has yet to be successful with several attempts at his seminal plan, the Housing Opportunity Act, which “ensures that local zoned density and state housing laws are not undermined by hyper-restrictive lot requirements that make it practically impossible to build multifamily apartment buildings in areas zoned to allow them.

“It is so deeply important that we act decisively and quickly to pass commonsense housing policies that allow us to actually address our severe housing shortage and develop the housing that we need to get back to the old-fashioned… but important notion that we should have housing for everyone who needs it,” Senator Wiener said during a press briefing on Thursday.

“That seems simple and basic but we have gotten away from that in California over the last fifty years,” he said.

Senator Wiener said that all of the housing bills he is introducing this year “are pieces to the puzzle” and he notes there are other important bills that have been introduced in the Assembly and the Senate as he hopes “we will have a powerful bicameral housing package this year like we did in 2017.”

SB 478 sets minimum standards on floor area ratios (FAR) and minimum lot sizes, for land zoned for missing middle housing (from duplexes to ten unit buildings). Excessively low FAR and excessively large minimum lot sizes are tools that numerous cities use to undermine their own zoned density—in other words, a city can zone for multi-unit housing (or state law authorizes multi-unit housing) but extreme FAR or lot size requirements make that zoned density effectively impossible. As a result, cities are able to use this loophole to prohibit multi-unit housing otherwise authorized by local or state zoning law.

His office noted that current state law preempts local FAR regulations from hindering the production of things like ADUs.  When building an ADU under current law, “Local FAR standards are void.”  He claims, “SB 478 would simply require an FAR of 1.5 on multi-family zoned lots, rather than completely nullify them, as is the case with ADUs. “

SB 477, the Housing Data Act, strengthens California’s housing data collection so the state and public can better understand the impact of state housing laws and determine the progress made by various cities and counties in meeting regional housing goals. Currently, the state’s data collection on state housing laws is sporadic and not comprehensive.

SB 478 and SB 477 are sponsored by California YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard), and SB 477 is also sponsored by SPUR (San Francisco Bay Area Urban Planning and Research Association).

Senator Wiener previously introduced SB 10, which creates a streamlined process for cities to zone for missing middle multi-unit housing, and SB 234, which allocates $100 million to build housing for our most at-risk youth, specifically, youth exiting homelessness, the foster care system, or the criminal justice system.

Senator Wiener noted in his office’s release, “California is in the midst of a deep housing crisis, which is leading to mass migration out of the state, skyrocketing eviction rates, record levels of homelessness and poverty, and a growing class of low income and middle class super commuters unable to afford housing within several hours of their jobs.

“Many local governments in California are motivated independently to increase density in their neighborhoods, and others are required by state law to do so. However, due to the lack of adequate statewide standards, burdensome and outdated regulations, and a dearth of data about state law and its impacts on housing, some California cities are able to avoid accountability and find loopholes to prevent denser housing from becoming a reality.

“California’s severe housing shortage — in the millions — is severely harming our state, and we must take firm actions to help create more housing,” said Senator Wiener. “We need multiple strategies to help end our housing shortage, including empowering cities to build more housing, funding affordable housing, and ensuring that cities are taking necessary steps to meet their housing goals. Our 2021 housing bills help accomplish each of these important goals.”

Senator Wiener was joined by other housing advocates on Thursday.

“To meet the challenges of environmental sustainability, racial and economic justice, and to create vibrant communities of opportunity for everyone, California must reform many of its housing policies. This smart, targeted legislative package from Sen. Wiener addresses these challenges,” said Brian Hanlon, CEO of California YIMBY, a co-sponsor of SB 10, SB 478, and SB 477.

“This bill package offered by Senator Wiener represents the best of our collective efforts,” said Claremont Mayor Pro Tem Jed Leano. “It demands we provide for our most vulnerable, collect accurate data to make informed decisions going forward, and enlist creativity in diversifying housing stock.”

“Several major bills have been passed in recent years by the State Legislature — including Senator Wiener’s landmark SB 35 of 2017 — to increase housing availability and affordability in California,” said Michael Lane, State Policy Director with San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR).

He added, “It is critical that we track the implementation and use of these tools at the local level to determine their impact on increased housing production and the potential need for adjustments. Senator Wiener’s new SB 477 is a critical step to allow our state housing policy to be grounded in and informed by better and more complete information gathered from across the state and to measure results.”

“Senator Wiener has been an incredible champion for reforming California’s broken housing policies to help Californians paying unaffordable rents, almost 70 percent of whom are people of color,” said Ricardo Flores, Executive Director of LISC San Diego.

Flores added, “These are the people who are often working and living one missed paycheck away from losing their homes. We urge the California legislature to support Sen. Wiener’s common-sense bills to legalize more multi-family homes, and make it easier for all Californians to find secure, affordable, equitable housing.”

“We’re excited to work with Sen. Wiener on these important reforms that will serve to strengthen our growing efforts in Los Angeles to build more affordable homes,” said Leonora Camner, Executive Director, Abundant Housing LA.

She added,  “Many of the barriers that exist for housing are rooted in racism, exclusion, and segregation. There’s no silver bullet that can end the housing shortage and affordability crisis, which is why we believe this package takes the right approach and addresses several of the most critical factors — making it legal to build more middle-income homes; reducing the barriers to affordable housing in neighborhoods where it’s already legal; and keeping track of our progress. We look forward to working with our partners in LA, and across California, to bring housing abundance to everyone.”

“It is far past time we stop letting arcane housing requirements like FARs and minimum lot sizes serve as loopholes that allow cities and counties to avoid building housing,” said Laura Foote, Executive Director of YIMBY Action. “If we want a California that is truly welcoming, that provides enough housing so people across the state can afford to live here, we need to change these outdated and easily-abused regulations that just serve to make it harder to build housing – even in areas where it is technically legal.”

“Solving California’s housing affordability and displacement crisis requires bold action and forward-thinking leadership, which is why the Housing Action Coalition strongly supports Senator Wiener’s comprehensive and compassionate housing legislation package,” said Todd David, Housing Action Coalition Executive Director.

“The stakes are high,” Senator Wiener said, noting that at the heart of the housing crisis is a “math problem. We don’t have enough housing, which makes housing unbelievably expensive, it fuels homelessness and poverty and evictions and pushes people into multi-hour commutes or out of the state which makes climate change worse.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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18 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    Senator Wiener Introduces Four Bills to Spur Housing Production and Address California Housing Crisis

    God help us all 😐

    SB 478 and SB 477 are sponsored by California YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard)

    God help us all 😐

    SB 477 is also sponsored by SPUR (San Francisco Bay Area Urban Planning and Research Association).

    God help us all 😐

      1. Ron Oertel

        That sounds like an invitation for me to provide it!  🙂

        I had asked California YIMBY about that a few weeks ago, and was directed to a website where I had to log-in, to see it.

        According to the most recent tax return posted (for 2018), they received more than $3.44 million in total revenue for that year.  It is not clear to me where the bulk of that funding came from.

        I had asked if a more recent tax return was available, but did not receive a response.

        Home – California YIMBY (cayimby.org)

        On a somewhat related note, I recently watched a YouTube video which was intended to point out how difficult it was to gain approval to replace a building which housed a laundrymat in the Mission district of San Francisco. But what I found interesting was the makeup of those who opposed it. (They did not appear to be your stereotypical “NIMBY’s”, to say the least.)

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExgxwKnH8y4

        1. Alan Miller

          It is not clear to me where the bulk of that funding came from.

          Dirty secret:  “non”-profits don’t have to disclose their funders.  Some are used for doing the deeds of for-profit wolf companies while appearing in sheep’s clothing.  YIMBY is an unholy alliance of progressive housing advocates and evil developers (disclaimer: not all developers are evil, but evil developers are evil).  If they were honest, they’d at least change their name to YIYBY.

  2. Jose Molina

    You guys seem to want to discredit the people talking on this issue.  Out of curiosity do y’all not believe that we have a housing problem here in California?

  3. Ron Oertel

    SPUR received approximately $6.844 million in revenue, for 2018.  (The most recent year I could find.)

    https://www.spur.org/sites/default/files/financial_statements/spur_990_2018.pdf

    I’m not seeing the tax returns for “Abundant Housing LA” (as referenced in the article).

    Jose’s question appears to be directed to anyone who wishes to answer it. I’d just point out that the major concern in the video I posted (which was, ironically intended to provide a “developer’s” perspective) was the impact of gentrification, in the Mission district.

    I’d also point out that San Francisco’s rent has been drastically dropping, since that video was created. (Which had nothing to do with new housing.)

  4. Jose Molina

    You never answered the question about the housing crisis.

    Is gentrification really your concern?  After all, current housing policies are the ones really leading to gentrification.  Rental prices shouldn’t be your leading indicator.  Too much of that is short-term COVID. Watch the real estate market itself.  That’s the actual tell.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I’m not sure what you mean by “housing crisis”, in an era of falling rents.  There’s permanent shifts going on, regarding telecommuting.  California is essentially no longer growing.

      The gentrification concerns occur where people (such as those in the Mission district) are displaced by those coming in with more money and access to high-paying jobs.  (Often turning into a racial issue, as well.)

      The reason that housing prices are so high in San Francisco and Silicon Valley is primarily due to the pursuit of technology companies, some of which are now leaving for places like Texas and Nevada. (Along with their employees.)

      To suggest that redevelopment results in lower housing prices is an outright lie.  It ends up driving up housing prices, except for Affordable housing.

      However, anyone able to snag an apartment right now in San Francisco will probably come out ahead in the long run, due to its restrictive rent control.  (Some are taking advantage of that to move within the city.)

      Ultimately, my primary concern is with sprawl.

      1. Richard_McCann

        Ron

        Your assert California isn’t growing and that telecommuting is increasing permanently (which are at least true in the short run and I’ve pointed out the flight from offices), both of which are likely to lead to sprawling real estate development (some of it out of state), but then you say that you oppose sprawl. That would seem to argue for supporting increased density in communities surrounding the densest urban areas.

        This USPS data shows that most of the flight from SF was to neighboring counties, not out of state. That means that we still largely have the same population redistributed. To mitigate sprawl in those places we need to increase densities.

        https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/People-are-leaving-S-F-but-not-for-Austin-or-15955527.php

        “To suggest that redevelopment results in lower housing prices is an outright lie. It ends up driving up housing prices, except for Affordable housing.”

        Please present your empirical evidence for this statement. Personal anecdotes are not sufficient for supporting such a broad assertion.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Richard:  I did see that article, but California’s population (as a whole) actually shrunk somewhat:

          Population Shrinks in California, Still Most Populous State – NBC Los Angeles

          Your underlying theory is that those moving out of places like San Francisco will “move back” if more dense housing is built.  Neither you, nor the article provides evidence for that theory.

          Since there has been a permanent shift in telecommuting, this is not likely to occur, regardless.  Demographics also change over time, with younger people “aging out” of city life.

          And when companies move as well (such as Tesla, Oracle, and HP), they often take their employees with them.

          In any case, if there are people who have “temporarily” moved out of San Francisco (e.g., by holding onto their old units), it’s not likely that prices will be reduced, in the long run.  Seems to me that you’re referring to some very wealthy people, indeed.

          If the theory is that redevelopment (in an already-expensive location) lowers housing prices, maybe you should explain that to those being displaced.  This type of development is the most costly of all, and is the reason that lower-income communities (such as what the Mission district “used to be”) are so concerned.  If you pay $2 million for a small lot in an area with high labor and other costs (and with an old building that needs to be removed, first), are you actually suggesting that this will “build toward affordability”?  This doesn’t pass the smell test.

          I believe that this is my fifth comment, and the last one allowed. So, I also won’t be allowed to comment under your other comment (which I just saw), below.

          But seriously – are you suggesting that the companies in Silicon Valley haven’t caused a drastic increase in housing prices, there? (Again, doesn’t pass the smell test, or even basic logic.)

          Since my shot clock is now running out, I’ll leave it up to you to provide “evidence” of what you already know is true.

           

           

          1. David Greenwald

            Your article is from May of last year.

            This is from the December LA Times: “The California Department of Finance, which monitors the state’s population data, found that from July 1, 2019 to July 1, 2020, California saw a net gain of only 21,200 new residents — a 0.05% growth rate not seen since 1900. As of July, the state’s population was 39.78 million. “

  5. Jose Molina

    You probably own a house and therefore aren’t very concerned with buying.  Temporary respite on the rental market is not a policy fix.

    The only reason California is no longer growing is because the cost of housing is so expensive people are up and leaving.

    I guess this is what the Davis bubble looks like.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I was priced-out of the Bay Area, and I would guess that about half of the Davis population was, as well.  (Not to mention the entire region, which is made up of quite a few “transplants”.)

      I accept it, but I do sometimes resent the technology companies which have helped cause it.  However, most people end up moving at one or more points, in their lifetimes. Hopefully, to a better situation each time.

      I think it’s healthy that some folks are leaving for areas where the housing cost/job ratio is in better-balance.  (Again, that’s what Davis and the region was, and still is for many from the Bay Area.)

      In response to David’s question, the refusal to accept limits is not limited to infill. (I suspect that pursuit of infill actually increases pressure for sprawl.) Again, look at the underlying reason for growth pressures – it’s “jobs” (e.g., more than what’s actually needed for a particular area). And yet, this is rarely discussed by the “growth people”.

      1. Richard_McCann

        Ron

        Again, please present your empirical evidence, not anecdotes, about how create more jobs increases pressure for sprawl. Also please specify how “what’s actually needed” is to be determined without setting up fences such as segregation around communities to keep a supposed jobs/housing balance.

        As for Davis in particular, this isn’t some out of the way hamlet. It serves a dual role as a midpoint location between the state capital and the state’s tech center, and as one of the most important academic centers in the state. That means that it needs to grow to accommodate its responsibilities to the rest of the state serve governance, education and research. This is a fairly unique for a community. If you are uncomfortable with living in a community with those responsibilities, and you prefer to live somewhere that can comfortably live in stasis such as a northern Sacramento Valley farming community, then I suggest that you move there instead. As with anywhere that one lives, you must assess what are the tradeoffs that you prefer. You sound like you’re unhappy with the tradeoff that is presented to you, and you’re trying to impose conditions that are contrary to what is best for Californians.

        1. Alan Miller

          please present your empirical evidence

          He can’t today.  Term limits.

          Please await the exciting conclusion to housing policy in the next episode of DV Housing Articles.  Same bat time, Same bat channel

      2. Bill Marshall

        I was priced-out of the Bay Area, and I would guess that about half of the Davis population was, as well.

        I would guess that about half of the Davis population was, as well. 

        I accept it, but I do sometimes resent the technology companies which have helped cause it.

        Really?  I was not “priced out” of the Bay Area… but we wanted a house and a lawn, instead of an apartment… had it not been for our “want” there would have been no “need”… we could have rented indefinitely, and saved a lot of $$$ when all is taken into account.  But, we both came from families who owned SF homes, so we trended that way… but we were not ‘priced-out’ from good housing… mostly, “wants” drive the changes more than “needs”… folk can control their “wants”…

        From the folk I know, that’s pretty typical, as was less traffic/commute time, etc.

        Why did you not go into technology (no need to answer, as I suspect I know)?… if technology literate folk can afford BA prices, why blame technology companies, instead of your own choices, as to career?  We made our choices, as to “wants” vs. “needs”… those choices had costs, but we accepted them.  We also got good benefits from those choices, not at first, but later…

        Jose asserted,

        You probably own a house and therefore aren’t very concerned with buying.  Temporary respite on the rental market is not a policy fix.

        Again, choices… we chose to buy/own a house, and it was a real stretch for us… gave up a lot of things to make that work, financially… turns out it was a good choice, but, if I added up all the costs, expenses in doing so, financially, it might well have been a “push”… but still, a choice we made.

        Housing/shelter is a basic human right… having it be affordable, is good in meeting that end.  “Affordable ownership” is not a right, nor a “need”… it’s a “want”.  Have several close relatives that “chose” being a renter, which kept the housing (quite good housing, in fact) affordable, and they chose not to deal with the ‘other’ costs of home ownership… maintenance/repair, etc.

        I believe in “affordable housing”… I support that… “affordable home ownership”, not so much… I do not believe society owes folk a “legacy”… that is for the individual to earn, pay for… much of what has been wrong in the Davis “affordable home ownership” program is to allow folk to buy in cheap, sell high… buy low, sell high, is great investment advice… I just don’t want to fund that for others…

        And I fully expect folk on all sides of the spectrum to heartily object to these thoughts/opinions… but I only have 4 responses left…  first come, might be first served…

        (1/5)

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