After California SB 827, which would have allowed apartment buildings near mass transit stops to be built up to five stories tall, died in committee last April, Scott Wiener’s second pro-development bill passed the California State Assembly and heads to the senate.
Instead of directly upzoning large portions of California’s urban areas (up to 96% of San Francisco would have been covered by SB 827), SB 828 requires cities to revise their housing plans to accommodate greater housing, particularly for financially constrained residents. According to the legislative council’s summary,
Existing law requires the department…to determine the existing and projected need for housing for each region in accordance with specified requirements. Existing law requires the appropriate [local authority] to adopt a final regional housing need plan that allocates a share of the regional housing need…including that a specified type of ordinance or policy that limits the number of residential building permits issued by a city or county may not be used as a justification for a determination or reduction in a jurisdiction’s share of original housing need.
Wiener’s bill would prevent any gamesmanship when making these projections by preventing a lack of new housing or stable population numbers from being used to justify a reduction in housing production goals.
The bill would also require local council of governments to “provide data on the overcrowding rate for a comparable housing market and would define the vacancy rate for a healthy rental housing market…to be no less than 5%.” In addition, the council of governments would be required to include data on the number of cost-burdened households, the rate of housing costs, and projected household income growth.
A number of amendments reduced the scale of the reform. One provision of older drafts would have required cities and counties to make enough land suitable for development for localities to meet 125% of their regional housing goals (down from 200% in previous drafts).
SB 828 makes two unique contributions to the land-use and zoning reform policy landscape. First, increased disclosure requirements on data related to the local housing market will shed light on the severity of the housing affordability crisis in many neighborhoods.
Second, by directly prescribing some of the assumptions to be used when drafting projections for housing needs, the legislation builds on two important truths about the residential housing market to the analysis of housing needs.
When cities justify lower housing production goals based on lower population growth, they ignore the potential effects of high housing costs on reducing the inflow of people to a supply-constrained area. Additionally, though high vacancy rates can be a problem for legacy cities (think Detroit and Baltimore), the bill mandates the use of a 5% vacancy rate, the consensus figure on a “healthy” level of vacancy.