For the third year in a row, California State Senator Scott Wiener is pushing through a slightly-rebranded version of the same housing bill, currently known as SB50 (Senate Bill 50) which would open up the state of California to multi-family housing by increasing housing construction in wealthy areas with lots of jobs and good schools, and in areas with high transit in order. He is convinced that re-zoning areas near transit that currently are zoned as low-density housing areas will allow for an ample supply of housing to fix the current housing crisis. What does this mean specifically for your neighborhood? What do housing advocates and other legislators have to say about it? Let’s explore…
SB 50 was originally proposed in 2018 as SB827, and was rebranded in 2019 as the “More HOMES (Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity and Stability) Act.”
Here are the general rules that would apply should the bill be adopted into law:
- SB50 would allow construction sites within a half mile of fixed rail and a quarter mile of high-frequency bus stops looser rules around construction and parking requirements to include no city-imposed limit to density (i.e. apartment building construction) including no maximum height limits within a half-mile of a fixed rail station.
- SB50 would still defer to city planning design standards, inclusionary housing requirements, all set back rules, height limits (except near fixed rail stops) and demolition standards, unless the city rules are unclear. This change would increase cities’ ability to control the amount of construction of multi-unit housing in neighborhoods that currently consist of primarily single-family homes.
- For low-income communities, SB50 would add tenant protections for long-term residents to be protected from displacement, including the prohibition of building demolition where the building is occupied or where Ellis Act evictions have taken place.
- SB50 establishes new affordability standards, looking to place tenants with varying levels of income
- Looks to allow tenants more access to publicly funded services
- Looks to protect communities that are at risk for gentrification to protect residents using delayed implementation of rules, in order for local planning teams to work to reduce displacement
- Looks to impose an incentive on job-rich communities, allowing easier access to jobs for low-income tenants to easy access to high-quality public schools and high-quality transit, to prevent gentrification and increase opportunity for lower-income residents
As the bill has evolved, small changes have been made. Originally, SB50 was to also allow current single-family homeowners to build four-plexes on their properties, overriding individual city planning limitations. This has also since been removed from the bill, with the arrival of AB68, which passed last year and is currently under law in California, allowing this change, which was signed in to law by Gavin Newsom last year. The governor has not outright endorsed the proposed changes in SB50 but has praised Wiener for his efforts, indicating a strong likelihood of continued support with these other aspects of the full bill.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has also shown support, voting to turn SB50 into a two-year bill. Senator Wiener now has until January 31st to persuade the rest of the senate to pass a floor vote. Should that happen then it would move on to the California State Assembly.
Unsurprisingly, local governments are feeling threatened and pushing back. Cities such as Long Beach, for example, have expressed their concerns for their decreased ability to dictate their own city’s development. Feeling the pressure, it is very likely that Senator Wiener will lighten up on some of these rules, perhaps allowing local control, for example, when it comes to building height.
But what do the housing advocates say about the bill? Because of its direct ties with transit, there are a lot of gray areas when it comes to SB50. For communities such as Inglewood and South L.A. who are facing increasing gentrification and where the housing need is greater, have felt that the bill largely ignores low-income communities. Housing advocate Jackie Fielder has led the charge against SB50 stating that while she and her team “support transit-oriented housing” that they “cannot simply rezone for transit-oriented development while ignoring the fact that low-income Californians rely on transit the most. Urbanist pro-housing allies need to do a better job of listening to low income people and people of color before legislating or advocating on their behalf.”
Democratic legislators in suburban areas have been strong opponents. Will the bill pass? That remains to be seen.
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