Governor Brown recently approved California’s AB 3194, amending portions of the Housing Accountability Act, also known as the anti-NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) legislation.

This new law closes loopholes left open by previous laws and adjusts zoning standards. But in a nutshell, AB 3194 makes it easier for developers to build affordable housing developments.

This new law builds on 2017’s AB 1515 which considered housing developments and emergency shelters to fall within a local housing plan — as long as there is substantial evidence leading a reasonable person to conclude that it is, in fact, consistent with the plan. This wording clearly left room for a certain level of subjectivity, which AB 3194 attempts to correct.

Under the new law, proposed housing developments for low- and moderate-income households, including emergency shelters, are considered to meet applicable zoning standards. Previously, the local government may have required re-zoning to occur before approving a proposed housing development.

Further, rather than put the burden on the housing developer to prove it meets local zoning rules, this law requires any local government seeking to reject a proposed housing development to provide written evidence that:

  • it has already met its regional need for low- and moderate-income housing;
  • the development would have a specific negative impact on the health or safety of residents;
  • approving the development would result in a violation of a specific state or federal law;
  • the proposed development is situated on and surrounded on at least two sides by agricultural or resource land;
  • the proposed site lacks adequate water or wastewater facilities to accommodate the development; or
  • the development is inconsistent with both local zoning rules and the general plan at the time of the completed application, and the area has adopted a lawful, revised housing element in compliance with 2015 law to meet statewide housing goals. [Calif. Government Code 65589.5(d)]

The legislative intent of this new law is for local governments to encourage urban infill rather than sprawling development into surrounding agricultural areas that may lack infrastructure. [Gov C §65589.5(c)]

Legislative impacts on affordable housing

This bill is one of many new laws passed in the past year to address the state’s housing crisis. The end result of most of these laws has been to retrieve power from the hands of vocal NIMBYs who seek to limit development in their local communities.

Insufficient new construction of low- and moderate-income housing has left the majority of renters across the state paying close to half their income on rent, and held back the home sales volume recovery.

This new law was sponsored by the California Building Industry Association, which claims the law will stimulate construction, reduce costs for builders and end users, and encourage homeownership. All of this will help grow California’s economy and maintain a healthier housing market.

Expect to see construction of new homes, particularly multi-family units, grow as a result of these combined legislative efforts in the coming years.

Related article:

Legislative steps toward more affordable housing