The Rise and Fall of SB 827

Rising home and rent prices in California are pushing people further away from their jobs resulting in long commutes and heavy congestion of the roads and freeways. Lower income residents are often forced to choose between necessities including rent, food, and healthcare. The states hunger, health and homelessness problems are all a direct result of or exacerbated by costs in the Golden State.

Housing costs are creating a measurable economic strain on the economy and McKinsey estimates $140 billion per year in lost economic output.

State lawmakers are making their own attempts at addressing the problem. In 2017, California legislators passed 15 housing bills, funding approximately 1 billion dollars for subsidized housing programs. Even more housing bills are slated for 2018.

Unfortunately, legislative reforms are not nearly expansive enough to alleviate the issue statewide. Regardless of how many housing bills are passed, the barriers to adding new supply in the states primary MSAs means that costs will continue to increase nearly unchecked.

There have been attempts to address the supply side of the equation. A few months ago, State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, proposed SB 827. SB 827 would require that all areas within a half-mile of high-frequency transit stop allow heights of at least 45 to 85 feet. Which is about four to eight stores, which is much higher than the guidelines set by many local zoning commissions. SB 827 would have alleviated two issues. First, allowing for an increase in supply would make housing more affordable. And second, a reduction in traffic and congestion would result from providing housing closer to public transit.

The controversial bill, however, was killed in late May. Many feared that SB 827 would replace efforts aimed at building additional public housing. “Not In My Back Yard” activists (NIMBYs) also feared that implementing the bill would be detrimental to neighborhood character.

With SB 827 off the table, Wiener, proposed SB 828, a more “watered down” version of the previous bill. SB 828s original intent was to require localities to zone for 200 percent of housing needs, as opposed to the current 100 percent. The bill was eventually passed in late May, but only after the 200 percent requirement was reduced to 125 percent and the phrasing was changed from “shall” to “should,” essentially making the additional density optional for municipalities. It is doubtful the bill will have any real impact.

Although SB 827 may be dead, the search for a more permanent solution to make homes more accessible, affordable, and transit-friendly continues.

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