California’s legislature is always looking for new ways to add more housing and catch up to the state’s rapid population growth. A recently proposed bill attempts to do just that — with a twist.

Senate Bill (SB) 827 wants to add a “transit rich housing bonus” to the state’s planning and zoning code. This would give builders incentives or concessions when building within:

  • one-quarter mile radius of a single bus route with a service frequency of 15 minutes or less during morning and afternoon commute times; or
  • one-half mile radius of a major transit stop, defined as:
    • a rail station stop;
    • a ferry terminal serviced by a bus or rail line; or
    • an intersection of at least two bus routes with a service frequency of 15 minutes or less during morning and afternoon commute times. [Calif. Public Resources Code 21064.3]

This bonus would exempt the builder from following several ordinary building requirements, including:

  • density controls;
  • parking requirements; and
  • height limitations.

Will it pass?

It’s doubtful the bill will pass as it currently stands. Local not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) advocates won’t let anything altering their neighborhoods occur without intervention, therefore — if the bill gets passed at all — the density and height limitations will likely be clawed back. The elimination of parking requirements makes more sense and will be easier to swallow, since living near transit means homeowners and renters won’t need as many personal vehicles to get around.

But even if the whole bill is passed, it’s not necessarily a win for housing. As Redfin’s chief economist points out regarding the bill, “… builders may choose to develop luxury homes near highly demanded transit-friendly locations. Unfortunately, building without guidelines hasn’t historically created affordable housing.”

What they are referring to is California’s extreme shortage of housing within reach of low- and moderate-income households. Homeowners and renters are increasingly paying a bigger share of their paychecks on housing. This has worsened in recent years as the population continues to grow, and new construction has failed to keep pace.

Further, with the cost of land so high in California — due primarily to low-density zoning restrictions — builders are focusing the majority of their efforts on high-tier housing that will produce the greatest profit.

This bill is a step in the right direction. But it’s no guarantee for California’s overburdened renters and homebuyers.

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California worst in the nation for new affordable construction