Like last year, the spotlight is firmly on cities when it comes to housing. However, there is a growing recognition among many lawmakers that cities need more than housing plans to boost supply: They need ongoing funding.
Over two dozen legislators recently endorsed the League of California Cities’ request for $3 billion in ongoing funding to help cities increase affordable housing and reduce homelessness. Many lawmakers have also put forth their own funding proposals.
Cal Cities supports two measures that would increase or expedite state funding. Asm. Wicks introduced AB 1657, a promising bond measure that would provide $10 billion for several underfunded state housing programs. Asm. Schiavo’s AB 519 would create a consolidated application and review process for the state’s affordable housing programs.
Uneven and limited funding has long been an issue for affordable housing projects. Affordable housing is significantly more expensive to build than market-rate housing. Most projects are constructed using a patchwork of federal, state, local and private sector resources. Developers, local officials, housing advocates and some lawmakers often cite the time needed to secure funding as a major barrier to housing.
On the zoning side of the equation, Asm. Lee and Sen. Wiener have both introduced some well-intentioned measures — albeit ones in need of improvement.
Asm. Lee’s AB 309 would create a state agency that could construct and lease affordable housing. The proposed agency would completely bypass both the state’s own housing planning laws and local rules. Cal Cities opposes the measure unless it is amended. Cal Cities is seeking changes that would require the agency to follow all local zoning and objective development standards.
AB 1490 — also by Asm. Lee — would require cities to give certain concessions to 100% affordable adaptative reuse projects. The bill was recently amended to give cities greater discretion over certain projects, conduct environmental reviews and impose objective design standards.
However, it still limits cities’ ability to enforce maximum density and parking rules. Converting an existing building into a multifamily residential development will likely increase the demand for parking, especially if the development is not well served by public transit. Cal Cities opposes the measure unless it is amended to address those concerns.
Sen. Wiener’s SB 4 would allow nonprofit colleges and religious institutions to build affordable housing on their land. The bill would only kick in under certain conditions and require developers to comply with objective standards. However, it would also bypass some local parking, density and height requirements.
Cal Cities supports the measure if amended and is seeking changes that would allow cities to maintain their parking and building height requirements.
The Cal Cities-opposed SB 423 (Wiener) is also winding its way through the legislative process.
The bill would double down on the state’s tendency to override its own mandated local housing plans by modifying and expanding SB 35 (Wiener, 2017). Under the expansion, all cities would need to approve certain multifamily housing developments by-right, without discretion, public input or environmental review. The state would also be able to approve housing on land they own or lease, regardless of any inconsistency with local zoning rules or general plans.
It is unlikely that cities will be out of the spotlight anytime soon. The Legislature has a seemingly unlimited appetite for micromanaging local land use decisions and the housing affordability crisis shows no signs of abating. However, legislators are also starting to realize that bypassing local zoning laws is not a silver bullet.