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Legislative Update: Tracking Some of California’s Housing Bills

Affordable Housing, Displacement, and Regional Housing Needs

The elephant in the housing legislation room is S.B. 827, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). This bill, which has sparked furious debate among housing and economic justice advocates since it was introduced in February, will get its first committee hearing Tuesday when it goes before the State Senate’s Transportation and Housing Committee.

S.B. 827, which upends zoning laws at major transit hubs throughout the state with the aim of spurring much-needed new housing, has already undergone several rounds of amendments in response to criticism that it would cause displacement in lower-income neighborhoods. Wiener revised the bill to include anti-displacement language and mandatory affordable housing requirements as well as “right to return” language, but housing, anti-gentrification, and environmental advocates remain split about the bill. Organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, Habitat for Humanity California, and the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California have expressed support for the bill as amended, while groups like Sierra Club California and ACT-LA remain strongly opposed.

S.B. 827 isn’t Wiener’s only housing bill this cycle.

He is also taking aim at the state’s Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) rules. His bill S.B. 828 would strengthen state law mandating that local jurisdictions update their local zoning ordinances to assure they make room for adequate housing growth. S.B. 828 would specifically put the onus of more housing production -- especially homes for low- and very-low income residents -- on cities “with high rates of income growth” and where “median rent or home prices available for rent or sale... exceed levels affordable to median income households.” The L.A. Times noted that while S.B. 828 isn’t getting nearly the same attention as Wiener’s other major housing bill, it has the potential to have just as dramatic an impact on housing production is California.

S.B. 828 will go before the Senate Housing and Transportation Committee on April 24.

Wiener isn’t the only one hoping to strengthen RHNA rules. Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) authored A.B. 1771, which enjoys the support of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. That bill aims to make the RHNA allocation process more equitable by allowing non-governmental organizations and surrounding jurisdictions to challenge the allocation of another jurisdiction. Though RHNA requirements are set by the state, they are meted out through a very political process to cities by larger regional bodies like the Southern California Association of Governments. As a result, some jurisdictions get away with having artificially low RHNA allocations. Bloom’s bill would allow for more oversight of this process by allowing outside parties to check jurisdictions that aren’t carrying their fair share of much-needed housing growth.

Protecting Existing Tenants

Bloom has also introduced one of a suite of bills that collectively would shore up tenant protections. A.B. 2364 would close a loophole in the Ellis Act, the state law that allows property owners to leave the rental market. Property owners have used Ellis to evict tenants, then turn around and rent out units at higher rates. “The Ellis Act was written with the intention of giving landlords the ability to evict their tenants in order to withdraw from the rental market. Advocates from around the state are seeing instances of landlords evicting all tenants in a property and then returning those units in a piecemeal fashion to the rental market, skirting the original purpose of the law,” Bloom’s office said in a press release when the bill was introduced in February. A.B 2364 would close that loophole, Bloom’s office said.

This bill would also extend the amount of time all tenants will have to vacate a property when the Ellis Act is used to evict them. A.B. 2364 would give all tenants a full year to vacate. That is currently the length of time required only for elderly or disabled tenants.

Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) has introduced a bill -- A.B. 2343 -- to strengthen tenants’ rights when facing eviction. And Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) authored A.B. 2925, a bill that creates “good cause” eviction protections for tenants.

Bloom has repeatedly acknowledged that keeping people in their homes and making sure those homes stay affordable is just as important to tackling California’s housing crisis as adding new homes. He has also authored A.B. 2797, which would strengthen the state’s housing density bonus law after a 2016 ruling that denied a housing project even though it qualified for a density bonus because it was deemed incompatible with the community under the California Coastal Act.

Accessory Dwelling Units, AKA Granny Flats

Two bills, one from Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) and the other from Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), aim to make it easier for people to build “accessory dwelling units”— known as ADUs or “granny flats”—on their properties, as another way to increase the housing supply. The bills differ somewhat on details but basically aim towards the same goal: to make it the statewide default that the construction of ADUs is allowed in areas zoned for both single-family and multifamily residential uses. Both bills would limit the standards a local ordinance could impose on these units—and any exceptions would have to be clearly defined and rigorously supported with evidence.

Skinner's bill, S.B. 1469, also stipulates that if local jurisdictions do not have a local ADU ordinance, then they would have little to no discretion to refuse or delay ADU permits.

Wieckowski's bill, S.B. 831, would also prohibit locals from requiring the replacement of any off-street parking lost with the construction of extra units; prohibit local ordinances from requiring the units to be owner-occupied; and eliminate requirements for separate utility lines and accompanying fees.

These two bills will need to be reconciled before their final vote, but they both have strong provisions in them that may or may not fly—people still get heated about off-street parking requirements, for example.

And they follow up on two bills signed by Governor Brown two years ago, one from Wieckowski and another from Bloom that now require cities to allow ADUs by right in certain areas, and prohibit imposing parking requirements when they are built near transit, for example. Bloom is also working on A.B. 2071, which aims to clear up a permitting problem people are having when they set out to convert garages to ADUs.

Parking Requirements Are Part of Housing Costs

One last bill is a try at pushing back at these attempts to rationalize parking requirements. Senator Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) says that S.B. 893 is about preserving local control, but it would remove lower parking requirements from the density bonuses available to developers who build 100 percent affordable rental housing. The bill’s author refers to “onerous” prohibitions on parking requirements that don’t allow “local governments discretion on setting appropriate parking-to-unit ratios.”

But S.B. 893 would be a step backwards. Local governments have not proven to be very good at setting “appropriate” parking ratios, and the effects of existing requirements are what have been “onerous.” Not only would S.B. 893 contribute to higher costs of building affordable housing, by forcing developers to build unnecessary, unused parking, the bill would provide NIMBYs with one more way to oppose affordable housing.

The city of Glendora officially opposes S.B. 893 because it “would eliminate any incentive to reduce the overflow of cars and likely inhibit the production of additional affordable housing units.” It would be better, says Glendora, to remove minimum parking requirements from density bonus law altogether.

That would restore local control.

The effects of minimum parking requirements can be a bit confusing and counterintuitive, granted. But that’s no excuse for not studying up on a subject you are writing a law about. Senator Nguyen would benefit from watching this tutorial by Jeff Tumlin on parking minimums and what they really bring to our communities.

S.B. 893 is set to be heard this week.

Melanie Curry also contributed to this post.

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