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Another Attempt at California's By-Right Affordable Housing Proposal

The new streamlining bill for affordable housing will not have the governor's name, but that of freshman Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener, who made a name for himself as a tenacious housing advocate while San Francisco County Supervisor.
December 20, 2016, 9am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"Within hours of being sworn in this week, Wiener introduced legislation aimed at encouraging — and in some cases forcing — cities around California to approve more housing development, especially affordable project," writes Marisa Lagos, KQED’s California politics and government reporter. Listen to her report on SoundCloud.

Specifically, SB 35: Planning and Zoning: affordable housing: streamline, would "streamline and incentivize the creation of affordable housing projects, to remove local barriers to creating affordable housing in all communities...and to ensure the payment of prevailing rate of wages in the creation of this housing."

Wiener said he’s learned some important lessons from Brown’s failure and his time in San Francisco. The governor’s proposal — which sought to speed up the local approval process for projects that included some low-income housing — was opposed by labor, environmental and affordable housing groups as well as cities and counties.

Details of Wiener’s proposal are still being crafted, but in general it has two prongs:

  • The first is based on legislation he successfully pushed in San Francisco, and would exempt 100 percent affordable housing developments around the state from some local development requirements. 
  • The second part would punish cities that don’t meet their building goals, which are set through a state process [known as Regional Housing Needs Assessment.

Determining and allocating regional housing needs is inherently controversial, particularly in suburban communities wary of increased growth.

The state Housing and Community Development "is required to allocate the region's share of the statewide housing need to Councils of Governments (COG) based on Department of Finance population projections and regional population forecasts...," according to their webpage.

In the Bay Area, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) is the COG that oversees the controversial Regional Housing Needs Allocation process that prompted Corte Madera in Marin County to drop their membership in 2013. Four lawsuits targeted Play Bay Area, the growth plan overseen by ABAG.

The city of Irvine in Orange County unsuccessfully sued the Southern California Association of Governments over its RHNA process in 2007.

SB 35 "calls for the streamlining of developments in cities that don’t meet those goals — essentially, builders would be able to skip some local requirements if they are constructing homes in places that haven’t built aggressively enough," adds Lagos. Cities that don't like being told by COGs that they must plan for more housing will not be happy with this provision.

Wiener explains why the bill is necessary:

“Housing is no longer a city-by-city, siloed issue. It is a statewide need and the state has a role to play,” he said. “We want to maintain local control — communities should have a strong voice in their own future — but there have to be boundaries, and it’s not acceptable for cities or towns to simply opt out of creating housing.”

Planetizen covered Gov. Brown's bill from start to post-mortem. Some posts are linked above. All are listed below from most recent to earliest:

  1. Why California's By-Right Affordable Housing Proposal DiedSeptember 16, 2016
  2. California's $400 Million for By-Right Affordable Housing Dies in the Legislature, August 24, 2016
  3. The Unintended Consequences Lurking in Gov. Brown's Affordable Housing ProposalJuly 6, 2016
  4. BLOG POST: Bringing By-Right Affordable Housing to CaliforniaMay 23, 2016
  5. California Governor Proposes Streamlined Affordable Housing ProcessMay 18, 2016
Full Story:
Published on Friday, December 9, 2016 in KQED: California Report
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