California State Senator Scott Wiener is taking another whack at seriously addressing the state’s housing supply crisis with a bill that would create new state zoning requirements for high-density residential development near certain high-quality public transit. And this time the bill would apply to certain communities that are considered to be “job-rich” by virtue of their proximity to jobs, high area median income, and high-quality public schools, even in the absence of high-quality transit. This key part of the bill would help ensure that more affluent communities do their part to alleviate the state’s critical housing shortage. At the same time, however, the bill seeks to protect against the displacement of renters and “sensitive communities” at risk of displacement.
Introduced on December 3, 2018, Senate Bill 50—the “More HOMES Act” (Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity, and Stability)—is intended to address California’s housing shortage of approximately 3.5 million units, make housing more affordable, increase the supply of affordable housing, reduce the pressure for more “sprawl” development, and reduce carbon emissions by increasing opportunities for more people to live near transit and jobs. SB 50 is modeled on Senate Bill 827 (a bill we wrote about here), which would have limited certain local height, density, and parking requirements for housing near transit, a bill Senator Wiener introduced earlier this year that did not advance out of committee.
The More HOMES Act takes direct aim at the fact that, under current law, cities and counties have broad and deep power to make land use planning and zoning decisions, with no minimum density requirements near publicly-funded transit infrastructure. As a result, with some exceptions, many communities retain restrictive land use and zoning controls that impede the ability to develop multi-family housing near transit.
To address these issues, the More HOMES Act proposes to create “equitable communities incentives” that eliminate density restrictions and maximum parking requirements for housing near certain high-quality transit and in “job-rich” areas. The bill would apply these standards to sites within ½ mile of fixed rail and ¼ mile of high-frequency bus stops and in job-rich areas. The bill would prohibit cities and counties would be prohibited from limiting density (e.g., banning apartment buildings) within these areas. In addition, within ½ mile of fixed rail or transit connected ferry terminals, the bill would prohibit cities and counties from imposing maximum height limits lower than either 55 feet or 45 feet (i.e., 4-5 story buildings).
Unlike SB 827, however, local height limits would continue to apply near bus stops and in “job-rich” areas. Also unlike SB 827, the More HOMES Act defers to local design standards, inclusionary housing requirements, setback rules, demolition standards, and height limits (except near fixed rail stops).
While less heavy-handed than SB 827, the More HOMES Act would sharply shift California housing policy by curtailing exclusionary local zoning requirements near high-quality transit and in “job-rich” communities even if they lack such transit. The bill is certain to face stiff headwinds in Sacramento, but it already has the support of a broader coalition than SB 827, including the powerful State Building and Construction Trades Council and the mayors of various communities, and it is a potentially powerful tool to meaningfully add to the state’s inadequate housing supply.
Questions? Please contact Bryan W. Wenter, AICP of Miller Starr Regalia.
For more than 50 years, Miller Starr Regalia has served as one of California’s leading real estate law firms. Miller Starr Regalia has expertise in all types of real property matters, including full-service litigation and dispute resolution, transactions, acquisitions, dispositions, leasing, financing, common interest development, construction, management, eminent domain and inverse condemnation, exactions, title insurance, environmental law, and land use. Miller Starr Regalia attorneys also write Miller & Starr, California Real Estate 4th, a 12-volume treatise on California real estate law. “The Book” is the most widely used and judicially recognized real estate treatise in California and is cited by practicing attorneys and courts throughout the state. For more information, visit www.msrlegal.com.