After initial attempt failed, senator re-introduces bill to increase affordable housing

After introducing and failing to pass SB 827—a bill aimed at increasing density near and around transit centers by reducing or eliminating certain legal barriers—Sen. Scott Wiener is attempting to return to the inspiration behind the original bill with SB 50.

Dubbed the “More HOMES (Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity, and Stability) Act,” Wiener once again is focusing on increasing housing and density near transit and job centers while also including tenants in the bill that supply tenant protections while attempting to halt displacement.

The bill plans on achieving its main goal—increasing housing—through two main actions: Eliminating low-density zoning laws that are in place near transit and job centers and reducing or eliminating parking minimums for new housing developments, with increased incentives as the more affordable the development becomes.

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The biggest hurdle the bill faces (and one Wiener directly addresses) is its impact in vulnerable, marginalized communities. For example, in terms of the Los Angeles landscape, SB 827 ultimately failed because many of the communities rich in transit were those that had long been disinvested, like Inglewood and other South Central communities. These communities had spent the better part of the past 20 years crafting a development plan that fit their needs—and SB 827 ultimately gave unilateral control to the state over possible developments in the heart of these communities.

According to Wiener’s office, the senator heard these communities “loud and clear,” having worked with a coalition of residents to re-craft the bill in order to heighten the protection of vulnerable communities.

“We must take bold steps now to address our severe housing crisis and reduce our carbon footprint,” Wiener said in a statement. “California’s housing shortage hurts our most vulnerable communities, working families, young people, our environment, and our economy; it also increases homelessness. For too long we have created sprawl by artificially limiting the number of homes that are built near transit and job centers.”

Then we face two other debilitating realities in terms of creating more housing.

Restrictive zoning is largely driven by local governments because most zoning and land use decisions are left to those governments, which have driven policies that drive density and affordable housing away from transit and job centers. Some cities have even attempted to ban new housing altogether, like Los Angeles’ aggressive-but-failed Measure S in 2017.

Secondly, the intimate relationship between housing and climate change—California is failing to meet its emission goals because gentrification, displacement and a lack of building enough housing has pushed poor and working populations out of transit- and job-rich areas, forcing them on lengthy commutes in order to get to their jobs and pay the rent—is a driving factor of the bill.

Add this all together and we have what Wiener calls “an inequitable access to opportunity.”

“As a result of this restrictive zoning in urbanized areas, people are forced into crushing commutes, which undermines our climate goals, and more and more Californians are living in wildfire zones,” Wiener said. “As educational and economic opportunities become increasingly concentrated in and near urban areas, we must ensure all of our residents are able to access these opportunities. I am excited to work with a diverse coalition to spur the development of more housing for all income levels while protecting vulnerable communities and ensuring we do more to address climate change.”

Here’s the breakdown of SB 50:

  • SB 50 standards will be applied to sites within a half-mile of fixed rail and a quarter-mile of high-frequency bus stops; within these boundaries, no city can limit density (e.g., ban apartment building construction or create hyper-low density). Additionally, a city cannot impose certain maximum height limits within a half-mile of fixed rail.
  • SB 50 defers to local design standards, inclusionary housing requirements, setback rules, demolition standards (unless they are too weak), and height limits (except near fixed rail stops).
  • SB 50 also includes the following provisions to protect renters and low-income communities and create more access to publicly funded services:
    • Tenant Protections: Establishes strict tenant protections to ensure long-time residents will not be displaced from their communities, including a prohibition on demolishing buildings currently or recently occupied by renters or where Ellis Act evictions have occurred.
    • Affordable Housing: Establishes affordability standards to ensure that projects are mixed income.
    • Sensitive Communities: Allows for delayed implementation in sensitive communities at risk of gentrification and displacement, in order to allow for local planning to reduce displacement.
    • Job-Rich Communities: Proposes a new “job-rich housing project” incentive to ensure that communities with easy access to jobs and in neighborhoods with high-performing public schools allow a broader range of housing choices for people of all income levels, even in the absence of high-quality transit.

For the full text of SB 50 please click here.

Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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