Housing Battles Continue

California’s new legislators aim to reshape state housing policy

News Professional Practice West
California legislators have unveiled a large number of housing-focused bills as the new legislative session begins. (Andre m/Wikimedia)
California legislators have unveiled a large number of housing-focused bills as the new legislative session begins. (Andre m/Wikimedia)

When it comes to housing reform, California’s new state legislators have hit the ground running.

As the state’s new elected officials take office this week, a flurry of housing-related bills have been unveiled that, among other things, aim to further extend the state’s ability to set land use at the local level and streamline market-rate and affordable housing production.

The efforts, geared toward developing a comprehensive solution for easing the state’s crushing housing affordability crisis, come after significant legislative gains—and a few stunning failures—made during last year’s session. With Democratic “supermajorities” in both the state assembly and state senate, and a campaign proposal to build 3.5 million new housing units by 2025 from now-governor Gavin Newsom, many are expecting significant legislative progress over the next few months.

The stakes are particularly high for the state and its residents.

California suffers from some of the highest rents in the country, a phenomenon that has fueled a homelessness crisis in the state. A 2017 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that over 134,000 Californians are experiencing homelessness, the highest unhoused population of any state in the country. Not only that, but the state’s cities also harbor extreme examples of wealth and racial segregation, phenomena that have had deeply negative outcomes for many racial-minority and working-class neighborhoods in terms of social equity, environmental justice, and other metrics. Because the overall residential capacities of California’s cities have been steadily eroded over time through “local control”–driven rezoning efforts and increased parking requirements, the geographic range of affordable and workforce housing is increasingly limited, as well.

Further, large swaths of the state’s major cities are zoned exclusively for single-family housing, creating intense gentrification and displacement in the relatively fewer neighborhoods where multi-family housing is allowed while simultaneously pushing new development into “wildland-urban interface” areas most susceptible to fire damage.

The result of these converging phenomena is that California is rapidly losing its working class population to other, more affordable states as poverty and sprawl in the state become more deeply entrenched. In recent years, as awareness and political will have begun to coalesce around the housing crisis, piecemeal initiatives have successfully begun to unfold.



Below is a brief breakdown of a few of the major proposed housing bills unveiled Monday. A longer list can be accessed here.

AB 10: A proposed bill to increase the state’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit by $500 million.

AB 11: A proposed bill to reinstate California’s Redevelopment Agencies. Redevelopment Agencies existed in California prior to 2011 and worked across municipal lines to develop affordable housing and other projects throughout the state. The agencies were dissolved by then-Governor Jerry Brown in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

AB 22: A proposed bill with potentially far-reaching ramifications that would ensure “every child has the right to safe and clean shelter and that no child should be without safe and clean shelter by 2025.”

SB 18: State Senator Nancy Skinner has proposed a bill that would expand tenant protections while also establishing a statewide “Homelessness Prevention and Legal Aid Fund” to aid tenants against eviction and displacement.

SB 50: California State Senator Scott Wiener has proposed a new version of last year’s highly controversial State Bill-827. The new measure builds on the previous attempt to lift height and density restrictions for sites located within 1/4- to 1/2-mile of rapid transit and includes advanced protections for existing tenant communities. Significantly, the bill would also induce up-zoning changes for wealthy neighborhoods that are located near job centers.

It’s going to be a busy year.

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