The current debate about California’s housing affordability crisis is not about whether a crisis exists – the controversy really involves the question of how to treat the crisis.
In its recent legislative session, the legislature passed a law that made many changes to the state’s land use regulation laws. The most significant change was a provision that allows the construction of multifamily units in zoning districts that were originally intended to be exclusively meant for single family dwellings. Gov. Newsom signed the legislation only two days after prevailing in his recall election.
What the bill does
The legislation, known as Sen. Bill 9, would remove the power of local governments to limit density to single family dwellings in any zoning district. In signing the bill, the governor stated, ““The housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and 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.”
The new law permits the construction of two duplexes, two houses with attached units, or a combination capped at an overall total of four units in one zoning district. Municipalities would not have the power to limit new dwelling units to single family houses. The intent of the law is to permit more housing construction in areas where it is most needed.
The League of California Cities criticized the law as a “top-down” mandate that prevents local governments from responsibly planning for new housing where it is most needed.
The impact of the legislation
The new law removes one of the most sacrosanct measures in local land use laws – the limitation of new structures to single family dwellings. Analysts who have studied the legislation do not think that the new law will have a material impact on the number of dwelling units constructed in the next few years.
Anyone who is contemplating building one or more single family units on land currently zoned for single family dwellings may wish to consult an experienced real estate attorney for advice on how the law will affect development regulation in the municipality where the new construction is planned.