Confronting California’s Housing Crisis

California is in the midst of a housing crisis that isn’t likely to go away soon. New bills signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom now aim to stop communities from delaying construction of new housing projects and get building. The intention of these measure is to ease development restrictions and boost funding for affordable housing.

SB 330

Introduced by Sen. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, SB 330 caps the number of public hearings on new projects and streamlines the approval process. It bans local governments from hiking up fees on projects once an initial application is submitted and it also places a five-year moratorium on local policies that make it harder to build in cities without enough housing.

Skinner said the law, in effect through 2025, “gives a greenlight to housing that already meets existing zoning and local rules and prevents new rules that might limit housing we so desperately need.”

The new law also bans the demolition of affordable and rent-controlled units unless developers replace all of them, pay to rehouse tenants and offer those residents the first right of return at the same rent.

“Scarcity drives up cost, whether you are paying rent or trying to buy a home,” Skinner said in a statement. “And the skyrocketing cost of housing hurts all of us, whether it’s our neighbors who are driven out of the communities they grew up in or the many who end up homeless. (This law) helps us get more housing now. We need it fast.”

Bringing ‘granny’ back

While there are certainly some people who have the mindset of “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) and oppose construction, there are advocates for putting new homes on their existing property, literally in their backyard. With the hope that tiny Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) — often called “granny flats — may be a big answer to the urban housing crisis by adding tens of thousands of dwellings, lawmakers proposed other legislation that was recently signed into law as well.

SB13: Sen. Bob Wieckowski of Fremont is a member of the Senate Housing Committee and has been a long-time advocate for ADUs. He introduced a bill that reduces the fees cities charge to offset the cost of providing services to new secondary homes and eliminates them for small units. It passed with bipartisan support. Wieckowski said state officials, academics and workers in the field have often cited excessive developer fees as one of the biggest obstacles to constructing ADUs in California. “Cutting fees and providing a pathway to bring unpermitted units up to code will provide more affordable housing opportunities,” he said.

AB68: This new law prohibits cities from requiring minimum lot sizes for the construction of a secondary unit. Introduced by Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco, he noted that the housing crisis changed how people think about ADUs. “Instead of just allowing home offices, extra garages, or pool houses, why not build structures people can live in to help alleviate pressure on the housing market?” Under his bill, homeowners will be allowed to build two ADUs: a primary unit as well as a “junior” unit.

AB881: Also signed into law was a bill introduced by Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica. For the next five years, it prevents local authorities from imposing owner-occupancy requirements. Previously, many lots with a single-family home on the rental market could not house an ADU. Not only is this now possible, but agencies are also required to approve building permits to convert garages to ADUs.

According to a 2016 report by the McKinsey Global Institute, California needs to build 3.5 million housing units by 2025 to make a dent in the housing crisis. In Los Angeles, the number of applications for ADU construction has skyrocketed with more than 10,000 applications for ADUs already approved.

“The power should go to the homeowner, not the government, if they want to help with the housing crisis,” Wieckowski says. “We should let them chip in.”