2022 has the potential to be an important year for California housing legislation. Nine of the bills Abundant Housing supported made it out of the Legislature and will live or die on Governor Newsom’s desk before the end of September. We also supported SCA 2 (Allen and Wiener), a proposed state constitutional amendment that will go to the voters in the next statewide election.
Here’s a quick overview of what all of these bills would do and why we’re in support. You can read all of our support letters here.
AB 2097 – Parking Reform
AB 2097 would end minimum parking requirements, residential and commercial, near existing and planned major transit stops, with some exceptions.
The most important exception is that cities can opt out if they make findings that having no parking requirements would negatively impact their ability to plan for affordable housing or on-street parking near the project. That sounds bad, but don’t panic: there’s an exception to the exception! A homebuilder can get parking requirements waived if the project has fewer than 20 units, if it is at least 20% affordable at the moderate income level or below, or if the development is subject to parking reductions based on any other law (like density bonus law, which actually starts at lower percentages of affordable housing than 20%). I’ll admit that this framework isn’t ideal from a policy perspective, but it was politically necessary to get the bill out of Senate Appropriations, where a similar bill, AB 1401, died last year. Local governments are likely to exploit this exception to the hilt, but the policy still represents significant progress over the status quo.
There’s also evidence that tying parking relief to inclusionary zoning requirements is counterproductive for housing affordability. When San Diego adopted parking reforms similar to AB 2097 they saw a massive increase in deed-restricted affordable housing and housing construction in general. We support and are co-sponsoring AB 2097 because parking requirements make housing more expensive, reduce the number of homes developers propose and skew our transportation system towards cars, during a housing affordability and climate crisis.
AB 2011 and SB 6 – Housing in Commercial Zones
AB 2011 and SB 6 are bills that would legalize housing in commercial zones. The way things worked out in the legislature, leadership endorsed them both moving forward as a package. Think of these bills as different flavors the same basic idea, that homebuilders will often be able to choose between based on what’s best for their project.
AB 2011 only applies to 100% affordable and mixed-income projects and provides for ministerial review (objective standards, no CEQA). I don’t want to jinx it, but the bill also says some very interesting things about parking.
SB 6 defers to local review procedures and inclusionary zoning requirements (if any).
Both bills require the payment of prevailing wages, which are the enhanced wages for contractors state law requires for public works projects. They also have different takes on tweaking skilled and trained workforce (STW) requirements, which largely benefit union members, and have been a sticking point over housing bills in the past. AB 2011 requires larger projects to request dispatch of apprentices, but projects can proceed if they aren’t available. SB 6 modifies STW with a “two-bid offramp,” which is a jargony way of saying you don’t have to comply with STW if you can’t get at least two bids, meaning workers who meet those criteria aren’t available in your area.
These bills not only have the potential to significantly increase housing production, but also may signal a new era of progress and compromise around labor standards in housing bills, which is key to moving major housing legislation in California.
SB 886 – CEQA Exemption for Student Housing
SB 886 would create a CEQA exemption for housing projects undertaken by public universities. This makes perfect sense: our public colleges and universities do not have enough housing, many students are housing-insecure or homeless due to high housing costs, and not having to do environmental review under CEQA makes housing quicker, easier, and cheaper to build. Letting students, faculty and staff live near campus is almost always an environmental benefit, since it cuts down on driving. The bill also contains several environmental provisions that go even farther, such as exempting certain environmentally-sensitive sites and requiring projects not to cause a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
SB 897 – ADU Update
SB 897 would build on California’s groundbreaking laws facilitating Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) by making them even easier to build. It does this in a few ways, including making it easier to build second-story ADUs, allowing garage conversions for Junior ADUs and reducing multifamily residential parking requirements for multifamily ADUs, which existing law allows to be formed to some extent from existing non-habitable spaces like garages and carports. ADUs may be small, but they’re a big deal: in 2021, ADUs were 10% of the state’s new housing.
SCA 2 – Article 34 Repeal
SCA 2 would allow the state’s voters to repeal Article 34 of the California Constitution, which requires a public vote for certain affordable housing developments, and particularly for social housing. Article 34 came on the scene in 1950 as part of a racist campaign that played on white voters’ fear of integration. Article 34 makes it harder to build affordable housing and the City of Los Angeles is contemplating going to the voters to raise its caps. We should be making it easier, not harder, to build housing, and SCA 2 will do that.
AB 682 – Density Bonuses for Shared Housing
AB 682 would apply state density bonuses to shared housing buildings, as in more density and relief from development standards in exchange for some affordable homes. Shared housing buildings are defined similarly to Single-Room Occupancy (SRO) buildings. The concept is each tenant has a small room and some facilities, like kitchens, are shared by multiple units, a bit like a college dorm. This can be a very affordable way to build housing, and is sometimes used as a model of permanent supportive housing for people exiting homelessness. The option should be out there, even if it doesn’t make sense for everyone.
AB 1685 – Parking Ticket Relief For Unhoused People Living In Their Cars
AB 1685 is a different kind of parking reform, which addresses people experiencing homelessness and sheltering in cars. Cities can use their authority over on-street parking rules to ban overnight parking with the intent of getting unhoused people to move along. As a result, unhoused folks often rack up lots of parking citations that they are in no position to pay and this acts as an obstacle to pursuing the path out of homelessness. Like so many housing issues, this is also a racial justice issue, since Black, Indigenous and other people of color are overrepresented in homelessness, due to the accumulation of systemically racist policies with deep historical roots. The bill would require up to $1,500 in parking citations to be forgiven per unhoused person per year. Parking tickets don’t solve homelessness. What does solve it is affordable housing and support services.
AB 2873 – Diversity in Affordable Housing Contracting
AB 2873 recognizes that it is not enough to rectify disparities in housing outcomes. We also need to make sure that the process of solving those problems is inclusive. To that end, the bill would require certain recipients of Low Income Housing Tax Credits to report on the extent to which they contract with businesses owned by women, ethnic minorities, disabled veterans and LGBTQ people. The data will help us better understand how to broadly share the opportunities that embracing housing solutions will bring.
No legislation is perfect, and there will be more work to do in the years to come, but these bills will make some real progress toward solving the affordability crisis. Please tell Governor Newsom you want him to sign our pro-housing bills this year. You can do that via the contact options on his website or our online actions.
For too long, the loudest voices in the room have been uninterested in solving this problem. No longer. Please speak out today!