Newsom signs flurry of housing bills

Legislation aims to increase density and available sites for development

California Governor Gavin Newsom
California Governor Gavin Newsom (Illustration by Ilya Hourie for The Real Deal with Getty)

Just over one year after greenlighting SB 9, arguably California’s most significant new housing law in generations, on Wednesday California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a flurry of additional pro-density housing bills that are likely to influence development in the state for decades.

The most significant are AB 2011 and SB 6, two companion bills that remove rezoning requirements for residential development on former office and retail properties and which supporters argue could eventually lead to the creation of millions of new housing units.

“Today we are taking a monumental step in our efforts to turn our housing crisis in a different direction,” Assemblymemer Buffy Wicks, who authored AB 2011, said in a statement.

Progressive politicians and housing advocates across the state also celebrated.

“With today’s signatures *all* of our priority bills this year have become law!” tweeted the official account of California YIMBY, the housing advocacy group that has championed the legislation.

AB 2011 and SB 6 are likely to have a particularly large impact on heavily sprawled Southern California, where a large number of languishing commercial centers could foreseeably be repurposed into affordable housing. The legislation, called the “Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act of 2022,” grants affordable housing projects “by right” approvals, exempting them from the often onerous CEQA approval process and overriding local zoning.

To qualify, 100 percent affordable projects must be located in areas currently primarily used for office, retail or parking, and mixed-income projects must be located in “commercial corridors” — local roads that are typically used for strip malls and parking lots.

The legislation is intended to “expand the potential sites where housing can be developed, while directing development away from existing residential neighborhoods — in particular, existing single-family neighborhoods,” according to a bill analysis.

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Newsom also signed SB 679, an effort to create a new affordable housing agency for Los Angeles County. The bill has faced opposition from industry groups.

He also signed AB 221, a bill that further incentivizes ADU construction by clarifying construction rules and extending allowances to proposed, rather than only existing, multifamily projects. Accessory dwelling units, also called “Granny Flats,” are backyard units for single-family properties.

The full package signed by Newsom on Wednesday included dozens of bills, including efforts aimed at encouraging public university housing projects and protecting low income renters and mobile home owners, a suite of legislation that amounts to a major shot in the arm for the state’s growing legion of pro-housing advocates.

It also comes at a critical time for the state. While many hailed this year’s enactment of SB 9, a law that mostly eliminates single-family zoning statewide by allowing property owners to split lots and build duplexes, California remains mired in a seemingly intractable housing affordability crisis that’s driving legions of residents out and a source of havoc for millions more. But so far that law’s impact has been minimal, and cities around the state, including Pasadena, have also engaged in high-profile battles with state officials over enforcement.

Newsom signed the legislation at an affordable housing project site in San Francisco flanked by housing and labor leaders. AB 2011 and SB 6 had previously been stalled over disagreements with unions, and the governor’s office, while emphasizing the legislation’s affordable housing benefits, also took the opportunity to score broader political points, arguing the new laws would “create thousands of good paying jobs.”

He also announced $1 billion in state funding to “30 shovel-ready projects” that his office says will produce nearly 2,800 homes.

Last week Newsom signed AB 2097, another significant housing bill, which removes parking requirements for projects located near public transit.

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