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Legislation Rezoning Single-Family Lots For Up To 4 Units A Drop In The Housing Bucket

GGLO's Gerhard Mayer, National CORE's Steve PonTell, Innovative Housing Opportunities' Rochelle Mills and HED's Jerome “Otis” Odell.

Affordable housing developers have a front-row seat to the pushback, red tape and other hurdles that new multifamily projects can face. Conversely, they see the speed with which projects can progress when cities want a project to come to fruition quickly.

But they are torn on how much of an effect new state legislation aimed at eliminating some limits on where multi-unit projects can go will have on boosting the housing stock in a state where more units, especially those targeting tenants who can’t afford market rates, are sorely needed. 

One such recently signed bill, Senate Bill 9, eliminated single-family zoning, essentially allowing for lots where one residence could be built to now allow for up to four total residences to be built on that site. That is a change from the law now, which allows for a detached home and an accessory dwelling unit, also called a granny flat or mother-in-law unit. 

Proponents say that this new law could pave the way for more duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes​​, which they say are a key part of efforts to reduce the costs for renters and aspiring homeowners. But those who oppose the change say that the fabric of their neighborhoods will be negatively impacted by new residents and the cars and traffic they would bring.

“I’m a huge local control guy. I don’t like the state telling people what to do. But there are some cities that need to be told that they have to do something,” National CORE President and CEO Steve PonTell said at Bisnow’s Addressing The Affordable Housing Crisis in Los Angeles event this week. 

“It’s letting people know that we all need to be part of the solution,” Innovative Housing Opportunities President and CEO Rochelle Mills said. “But it will not bring the overwhelming solution that we need.”

She said it was certainly a valuable tool, one of many required to create enough housing to meet the state’s needs. But Mills’ concern and prediction was that the new rules would create more Airbnb and short-term rental units than it would create new permanent housing. It would be more impactful, Mills said, to eliminate the red tape that slows the creation of new housing and facilitate better coordination between the agencies that sign off on new projects. 

GGLO principal Gerhard Mayer worried that any significant generation of these units would also generate backlash against even these small forms of density. 

“If you think about why people are objecting to more people moving into their neighborhood, there’s a racial component for sure, but the other component is — [UCLA professor and parking reform advocate] Donald Shoup always said, if people moved into a neighborhood and they didn’t have a car, [existing residents] would scarcely notice,” Mayer said. “Everybody is afraid of more cars in their neighborhood.”

Mayer instead advocated for focusing on where building is happening, emphasizing that building should happen in areas where it is possible for people to get around without cars. Oftentimes, however, those are areas where there is the greatest resistance to new projects, Mayer said. 

Mayer, Mills and PonTell spoke on a panel moderated by HED principal and National Housing and Mixed-Use Leader Jerome “Otis” Odell.