New laws move through legislature to cut through local zoning rules and increase affordable housing supply

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Workers build single-family homes at the Rosedale housing project in Azusa Feb. 26, 2013. (SGVN/Staff photo by Leo Jarzomb)

California legislators are moving forward with two measures designed to cut through local zoning ordinances, to overcome increasing home prices, homelessness, and an affordable housing shortage.

A measure promoted by Senate leader Toni Atkins and supported by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, both Democrats, would make it easier to build smaller second units on what are now single-family properties, the Associated Press reported. This would allow up to four units (such as duplexes or houses two equal parcels under the bill.

The goal is “opening the door for more families to pursue their version of the California Dream, whether that means building a home for an elderly parent to live in, creating a new source of income, buying that first house, or being welcomed into a new neighborhood,” Atkins was quoted as saying.

While the measure would largely skirt local approval, Atkins added options for local governments to block construction if the projects are done by housing speculators, or they could imperil public safety or public health. “Those applying for the lot splits would have to swear that they intend to occupy one of the housing units as their principal residence for a minimum of three years,” the published report says.

The law passed with a bipartisan 49-19 vote earlier this month.

Meanwhile, the assembly  passed a related bill by Sen. Scott Wiener that would make it easier for local governments to rezone neighborhoods near mass transit for up to 10 housing units.

This bill received less bipartisan support, squeaking through on a 41-39 vote, despite supporters noting it was recently amended to make it optional for local governments.

“Legalizing small apartment buildings near transit and in urban infill areas reduces environmental impacts and slashes climate pollution,” Brian Hanlon, chief executive of the advocacy group California YIMBY, said in a statement.

The advocacy group California Community Builders argued the measures will narrow an “ever-growing racial wealth gap in California,” where more than 60% of whites own their homes compared to 35% of Blacks and about 40% of Latinos.

However, several Sacramento neighborhood groups said the bills “encourage large financial organizations ownership of residential property, with an increasing percentage of lower- and middle-class citizens becoming perpetual renters.”

They contend that the measures undermine both local control and environmental protections.

Both bills will reach the Senate for final votes before the Legislature adjourns for the year on Sept. 10.

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