Thursday, January 4, 2018

Housing: Part 274 - Wow! Scott Wiener swings for the fences.

California State Senator, Scott Wiener, has introduced legislation that would be revolutionary.  I agree with "Market Urbanism" that this would immediately transform the California housing industry, to the extent that building is not obstructed in other ways, which it certainly will be if passed.  But, momentum is turning into a hopeful direction.  And, the focus on density around transit means that this bill is an aggressive way to push housing expansion in a way that weakens arguments claiming building will increase traffic, will only be for rich newcomers, and will increase rents on other local units.

In short:
These three bills (1) mandate denser and taller zoning near transit; (2) create a more data-driven and less political Regional Housing Needs Assessment process (RHNA provides local communities with numerical housing goals) and require communities to address past RHNA shortfalls; and (3) make it easier to build farmworker housing while maintaining strong worker protections.

If enough momentum can ever build in housing supply so that rents moderate or fall, and the perverse migration pattern pushing working class households away from economically strong cities can reverse, it will be interesting to see how the debate evolves.


  1. I'm curious why you/MU think this will have such a large impact. First, this doesn't appear to give by-right development power, only zoning adjustments. And forcing a city to change its zoning means nothing without by-right, because the city can essentially just refuse to allow any projects that don't meet the zoning they actually want.

    Now, California did pass SB35 last year (another Scott Wiener bill) which allows for by-right zoning in certain cases. But it notably does NOT allow for by-right zoning if there's already housing on the plot, so you're not going to get single family homes upgraded to to denser housing here. I also imagine that this bill isn't going to allow open space to just be converted to housing either.

    It seems like the only place this bill will have impact is if you're developing a property near transit which is zoned for low density housing, but which actually doesn't already have any housing developed on it. I can't imagine this applies to very much of California.

    1. I tried to include caveats, but maybe I didn't state them strongly enough. I do think that obstructions to building have been so strong that a few green shoots could create a surprising number of new units, relative to the low current number of new units. And I think even a small increase in the rate of new units, if it was persistent, could change the conversation. Even now, the financial press has articles worrying that urban "oversupply" is turning prices down.

  2. Perhaps...does the bill allow for eminent domain to build housing near transit?