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More duplexes. Gavin Newsom signs bills aimed at creating more affordable housing in California

·4 min read

Gov. Gavin Newsom moved Thursday to create more affordable housing in California, signing a list of bills that would allow more duplexes and small apartment buildings in certain neighborhoods.

In a statement, Newsom said the new laws would mitigate a ballooning affordability crisis that “is undermining the California Dream for families across the state” and that “threatens our long-term growth and prosperity.”

“Making a meaningful impact on this crisis will take bold investments, strong collaboration across sectors and political courage from our leaders and communities to do the right thing and build housing for all,” he wrote.

Opponents said the measures would override local control over planning and zoning.

The California League of Cities said it was “deeply disappointed” in Newsom’s decision, calling it a “top-down mandate that disregards local voices and decision-making.” It said cities are already working on the issue themselves, planning for more than two million new units by the end of 2022.

Here’s what Newsom signed:

Senate Bill 8: The bill extends an existing law’s 2025 deadline by another five years, therefore maintaining limitations on local governments’ ability to “downzone” neighborhoods without planning to increase density in other areas until 2030. SB 8 also regulates policies that would make it harder to build more affordable homes.

The measure earned significant bipartisan support in the Legislature, where it passed the Senate on a final 30-3 vote and 67-11 in the Assembly

“My bill, SB 8, ensures that California’s local governments can’t just say ‘no’ or add unnecessary delays to housing that already meets local rules,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

Senate Bill 9: President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, wrote perhaps the most consequential housing proposal this year. The bill lets owners build a duplex on a single-family lot, or divide the property into two for a total four units.

A UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation found that if even only a percentage of lots get converted, hundreds of thousands of new homes could be built.

“For too many Californians, the idea of owning a home, renting a house big enough for their family, or even just being able to live in the community where they work is a far-off dream,” Atkins said in a press release. “This law will help close the gap and make those dreams a reality.

The bill was not only one of Atkins’ priority measures, but the star proposal in a package of housing ideas the Senate introduced this year. After big housing plans failed to make their way through the Legislature since 2019, Atkins coordinated a team to work on bipartisan solutions to the state’s housing multimillion-unit shortage.

“The years-long housing crisis has had a deep impact on our state, and has contributed to overcrowding, long commutes, and undue disadvantage for lower-income families,” Atkins added. “The intent of SB 9 is clear – to streamline the process so homeowners can create a duplex or subdivide their existing property up to four units – and aims to set California’s housing availability on a path of inclusion so that more families can attain the California dream.”

Sacramento is considering a similar proposal to build smaller multi-family homes in single-family neighborhoods.

The bill passed the Senate on a 28-7 vote and the Assembly 45-19.

Senate Bill 10: Another one of the Senate’s more powerful measures, SB 10 will pave way for smaller apartment buildings in transit- and jobs-rich areas. SB 10 lets a city or county pass an ordinance that allows streamlined construction of up to 10 units on a single parcel, which the bill’s proponents said hands an overdue and necessary tool to local governments who’ve struggled to upzone their single-family neighborhoods.

“California’s severe housing shortage is badly damaging our state, and we need many approaches to tackle it,” said bill author and San Francisco Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener. “SB 10 provides one important approach: making it dramatically easier and faster for cities to zone for more housing. It shouldn’t take 5 or 10 years for cities to re-zone, and SB 10 gives cities a powerful new tool to get the job done quickly.”

The Senate approved SB 10 on a 28-6 vote and the Assembly passed it 44-12.

Throughout the process, local governments and neighborhood associations opposed the Senate’s proposals as overreaching and a threat to their neighborhoods’ character. They also argued some of the bills would do little to produce affordable homes.

In a Sept. 10 statement, the League of California cities requested Newsom’s veto on SB 9.

“We’re disappointed that the Legislature passed Senate Bill 9 and urge Governor Newsom to veto this flawed legislation. SB 9 would undermine the ability of local governments to responsibly plan for the type of housing that communities need, while usurping local democracy and the input of local residents,” the league’s executive director and CEO Carolyn Coleman wrote.

“Rather than passing flawed legislation like SB 9, state lawmakers should instead work with local governments to provide the tools and resources to streamline local housing approvals and fund affordable housing.”

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