Bills require increased density near public transportation, ensure that cities’ housing goals set by the state are actually linked to population growth, and remove barriers to housing for farmworkers
Sacramento – On Thursday, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced the introduction of a new Housing First legislative package to continue the work from last legislative session to create more housing in California. The three bills mandate denser and taller zoning near transit, create a more data-driven and less political Regional Housing Needs Assessment process (RHNA provides local communities with numerical housing goals), and expand farmworker housing opportunities while maintaining strong worker protections.
In the 2017 legislative session, the California Legislature passed 15 housing bills to address California’s housing shortage, including Senator Wiener’s Senate Bill 35, which streamlined housing approvals in cities that aren’t creating their share of housing. At the signing ceremony for these bills, Senator Wiener joined other elected officials in declaring that much more work remained on housing. Today, Senator Wiener is announcing three new proposals to continue down the path toward putting housing first.
“Last year, we pivoted from a housing-last policy to a housing-first policy for California,” said Senator Wiener. “After nearly 50 years of bad housing policy – policy designed to make it incredibly hard and expensive to create housing – we began the long process of righting the ship and recognizing that housing must be a high priority for our state. Yet, even with last year’s fantastic progress, much work remains, and we must continue our momentum toward a better housing future for the residents of our state. Whether in transit-rich city centers, suburbs, or rural areas, people throughout California need better access to housing. California’s housing shortage is statewide, and we need statewide housing solutions.”
In addition to authoring these bills, Senator Wiener intends to work closely with other legislators, including housing champions Senators Nancy Skinner, Toni Atkins, and Jim Beall, and Assemblymembers David Chiu and Richard Bloom, on a broad range of bills. As in 2017, it is Senator Wiener’s hope that a strong bicameral housing package comes through for 2018.
Senator Wiener’s Housing First package consists of three bills, which are all being announced today. These bills will address major problems in our state housing laws: low-density zoning near transit-rich areas that can accommodate more housing, a flawed and politicized RHNA process that underestimates housing needs and favors wealthy communities at the expense of low-income communities, and local obstruction to badly needed housing for farmworkers who are often forced to live in distant motels or their cars instead of in proper housing.
SB 827 – Mandating Denser & Taller Zoning Near Transit
Co-authored by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by CA Yimby
California continues to invest in public transportation, but too often the areas around transit lines and transit stops are zoned at very low densities, even limiting housing to single family homes around major transit hubs like BART, Caltrain, Muni, and LA Metro stations. Requiring low-density housing around transit makes no sense. Transit-rich areas are *exactly* where we should be putting dense housing. We must build more housing near transit so that we can reduce reliance on cars.
Building dense and tall housing around transit is not only sound environmental, economic, and equity policy – it is also one of California’s most promising sources of new housing, according to a recent California analysis by the consulting firm McKinsey (LINK: https://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/urbanization/closing-californias-housing-gap?cid=eml-web). When we invest in transit, as we should, we need to make sure that the community at large is benefitting from this investment by having more access to housing near that transit.
SB 827 creates density and height zoning minimums near transit. Under SB 827, parcels within a half-mile of high-connectivity transit hubs – like BART, Muni, Caltrain, and LA Metro stations – and within a quarter mile of transit-heavy corridors will be required to have no density maximums (such as single family home mandates), no parking minimums, and a minimum height limit of between 45 and 85 feet, depending on various factors, such as whether the parcel is on a larger commercial corridor and whether it is immediate adjacent to the station. A local ordinance could increase that height but not go below it. SB 827 allows for many more smaller apartment buildings, described as the “missing middle” between high-rise steel construction and single family homes.
SB 828 – RHNA Reform: Relying on Data, Not Politics, in Projecting Housing Needs
The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), which is how California determines how much housing each local community should build, is based on a flawed methodology that significantly underestimates population growth and how much housing will be needed. In addition, the current RHNA allocation process is non-standardized, insufficiently connected to actual data, and highly politicized, thus giving some communities advantages when assigning state housing goals. Too often wealthier and more politically connected areas are able to pressure for lower housing allocations, while lower-income areas receive higher housing allocations. This pushes a disproportionate amount of development into lower-income communities.
SB 828 creates a clearer, fairer, more data-driven, and more equitable process for how the state and regional bodies assign RHNA numbers to local communities. It does this by requiring a more data-focused, objective process and by creating stronger guardrails, thus reducing the wiggle room jurisdictions use to lower their RHNA allocations. SB 828 also requires communities to begin making up for past RHNA deficits. California has a huge housing deficit due to years of under-production, and we need to dig out of that hole.
SB 829 – Expanding Farmworker Housing While Maintaining Strong Worker Protections
Joint Authored by Senator Andy Vidak (R-Hanford)
The state’s housing shortage isn’t just an urban problem – it affects rural areas, particularly those that depend on agriculture. Many farms have surplus land that could be used to build safe and secure housing for farmworkers, but the land needs to be rezoned. Unfortunately, this rezoning is often blocked by communities that don’t want housing for farmworkers. This leads farmworkers to be housed in unsafe and crowded conditions, like in distant motels or in their cars, and hurts our ability to draw workers to California’s farms.
SB 829 creates a by-right process where farm owners and operators can dedicate agricultural land for employee housing. The owner of the housing will finance and develop it by-right, provided it meets certain objective standards. The housing will have to be operated and managed by an independent non-profit to ensure the worker-tenants have protections from employer intimidation, and workers will receive strict tenant, labor, and immigration protections.