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These California Bills Could Improve The Housing Crisis

California’s housing crisis is impacting just about every demographic from students to seniors. To address the challenges Californians are facing, the state legislature has been working on several bills to help ease regulatory burdens that have stalled many developments or provide new rules to increase housing production.

“It’s starting to sink in that California has a devastating housing crisis,” Bay Area Council President and CEO Jim Wunderman said in a statement. “While this represents a good step forward in addressing a problem that is hurting millions of Californians and threatening our economy, we really need a big leap forward to remove the myriad regulatory and other barriers that are a huge obstacle to building the millions of new housing units we need. We’re not done, yet.”

Check out some of the bills that may have a significant impact below:

SB 1227 (Student Housing)

California State Capitol building

SB 1227 would allow student housing projects to receive a 35% density bonus as long as all of the units were dedicated to students and 20% were dedicated to very-low-income students and students experiencing homelessness as a priority.

College students are increasingly priced out of California’s extraordinary housing prices, threatening the Golden Goose of our economy,” Bay Area Council Senior Vice President, Public Policy Matt Regan said in a statement. “If the world’s most promising students can’t afford to study here, they’ll go someplace else.”

Currently, the density bonus requires renters to show proof that their income is 50% to 60% of the median income. It has been difficult for students, who are often not employed, to show they qualify for affordable housing, according to the San Francisco Business Times. The density bonus also applies to the number of units whereas student housing projects often have shared units with multiple bedrooms.

The bill would allow student housing projects to apply for a density bonus based on the number of bedrooms and beds instead of units. Students also would be able to use financial aid documents to prove their eligibility as long as they are full-time undergraduate, graduate or professional students enrolled in an accredited educational institution.

SB 1333, SB 828 and AB 1771 (Regional Housing Needs)

Affordable housing under construction in West Sacramento

SB 1333 would close a loophole that allows charter cities to exempt themselves from meeting their regional housing needs. Charter cities are those that are governed by a city charter document rather than by general law.

“California is experiencing a substantial shortage of affordable housing that is pushing more families into poverty,” said state Sen. Bob Wieckowski, a member of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and author of SB 133. “We cannot allow roughly 100 cities to exempt themselves from a crucial part of our planning and zoning obligations. Each city should do its fair share to help eliminate this housing crisis.”

Last year, a California appellate court decision held that charter cities are permitted to adopt specific plans that are inconsistent with their adopted housing elements and can eliminate sites zoned for affordable housing.

Currently, about 25% of the state’s 121 charter cities have adopted consistency rules that zoning and subdivision approvals must be aligned with the cities’ general plan, which may not necessarily follow the state's requirements. The rest of the state's cities must adopt a general plan, which includes housing that meets current and projected needs, and identify land adequate to meet the community's housing needs.

Several additional bills also will hold cities more accountable to meet regional housing needs. SB 828 would require cities to rezone land to allow for more housing than what is in their current plans.

AB 1771 would change the Regional Housing Need Allocation process to use more data to more accurately and fairly reflect job growth and housing needs.

RHNA typically is determined by a local council of governments that assigns jurisdiction by income category while factoring in job growth and local constraints to housing, but many have felt that the process is not data-driven and allows wealthier, job-rich areas to have lower requirements.

AB 2923 (Housing Near Transit)

Bay Area Rapid Transit

Among the most talked about housing bills, AB 2923 would give the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency authority to rezone its surface parking lots and vacant land to build housing, retail and parking structures within a half mile of a BART station.

It also would limit a city’s authority over land use and approvals to help expedite the development process. About one-third of the housing in these developments would be designated for low- and moderate-income families. BART could build up to 20,000 housing units and 4.5M SF of commercial space across its parking lots.

“This bill kills two birds with one stone, producing badly needed housing near transit that encourages commuters to leave their cars behind,” Wunderman said. 

AB 2890 (Granny Flats)

Several bills have been in the works to ease local regulations on accessory dwelling units, or granny flats, ever since new laws went into effect earlier this year to help homeowners build more ADUs. Not all of the latest bills have been met with widespread support. SB 831, which would reduce local fees and regulations on ADUs, stalled this past summer. The bill received criticism from local cities saying it was an attack on local control.

AB 2890, a new bill under consideration, would shorten the permitting time of ADUs to 60 days instead of 120 days, prevent bans on backyard units on small lots, make approvals easier and add more state oversight. Another proposal would legalize unpermitted units by applying building standards from when the unit was built instead of today’s more stringent building codes.

Regan has previously told Bisnow if just 10% of the Bay Area’s million and a half homes added an ADU, 150,000 new housing units would be produced.  

AB 2372 (Densification)

California’s Sustainable and Affordable Housing Act would lead to more dense, smaller housing units. It allows cities to use a floor area ratio calculation to determine how much housing can be developed on a site instead of using a per acre calculation. This new ratio is defined as the ratio of the gross building area divided by the net lot area.

The bill also prohibits cities from imposing parking requirements in excess of specified ratios and calculates impact fees based on square feet and not per unit. At least 20% of the housing at the development would need to be designated as affordable. Qualifying housing developments also would need to be within a half-mile of public transit.