• Accessory Dwelling Units (Photo - radcliffe dacanay, flickr).

      Extra room above the garage (Photo – radcliffe dacanay, flickr).

      SB 827 (Wiener) was the big effort to solve California’s housing shortage. When the state senate killed it in committee, the senators doomed California to more small-bore proposals.

      By Ethan Elkind

      Still, it’s worth reviewing what might be possible this year to at least partially address the massive housing shortage. Here are three housing bills that could make a difference:

      1- SB 828 (Wiener)

      This is Sen. Scott Wiener’s other big housing bill this year. It greatly strengthens the state’s regional affordable housing requirements on local governments. Under the law, cities and counties are allocated a certain number of affordable housing units they’re supposed to make available in their jurisdiction, by identifying sites where this housing could be built, in theory.

      But the process is largely a paper-pushing exercise, with few real world consequences for locals that don’t ensure the new housing is actually built. SB 828 would greatly tighten the requirements. Under the proposed bill:

      • Local leaders can no longer use prior underproduction of housing from previous cycles to justify a lower housing allocation from the state for the current cycle.
      • The state must include past under-production numbers as part of the current cycle of requirements for local governments.
      • Local leaders must identify actions to accommodate 125% of their share of the regional housing need that they could not accommodate without rezoning their identified sites.
      • Local leaders must make at least 100% of their share of housing be available for multifamily housing in already-developed areas.
      • Local leaders must demonstrate efforts to reverse racial and wealth disparities, including by showing a high housing allocation for households located within particular communities and for all income categories.
      • The state must address the historic underproduction of housing in California, particularly in coastal and metropolitan communities, by completing a comprehensive audit of unmet housing needs for each region by 2020 and add the results to each region’s next regional housing assessment following that year.

      If SB 828 passes as is, cities and counties would ultimately be required to rezone a significant amount of land for new housing, particularly to accommodate lower-income residents.

      2- SB 831 (Wieckowski)

      • Accessory dwelling units (ADUs), like granny flats, promise to add a lot of new housing units without changing the built environment much. They can be added on existing parcels quite easily and sometimes within existing building envelopes. In recognition of this potential, the state passed legislation in 2016 that preempted local restrictions on these units. But since then, anti-housing local leaders have used high fees, requirements on parking replacement, and “health and safety” concerns to block these new units. SB 831 would close those loopholes that have allowed local governments to find ways to kill ADUs.

      3- SB 961(Allen)

      This bill is unfortunately brought to you by some of the folks who helped kill SB 827. Move LA, the pro-transit group that is ironically opposed to much transit-oriented development (including SB 827), and State Senator Ben Allen, who voted against SB 827 in its first and only committee hearing, teamed up on an otherwise promising solution to help finance affordable housing near transit.

      • The bill builds on last year’s AB 1568 (Bloom, 2017), which improved infrastructure finance districts for infill projects. Using the acronym NIFTI (Neighborhood Infill Finance and Transit Improvements Act), it allowed these districts to capture future increases in revenue from sources like sales and occupancy taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements up front.
      • SB 961 takes the NIFTI model and would apply it specifically to areas within a half-mile of a major transit stop, with requirements to dedicate much of the funds to affordable housing. It also would expand the financing tools available by allowing the districts to authorize bonds without voter approval.

      So while housing advocates mourn the defeat of SB 827, this year still offers some movement to boost housing production. And in the long run, the mobilization of YIMBY groups in California and beyond promises to bring more legislation like SB 827 to the fore. All of it will be needed as the state endures this significant — and artificially created — housing shortage.

      Ethan Elkind directs the climate program at UC Berkeley Law, with a joint appointment at UCLA Law. His book “Railtown” was published by the University of California Press.


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