Senate Bill 827, written by state Senator Scott Wiener in 2018, proposed drastic solutions to Los Angeles’ housing crisis. The bill, which would have affected almost half of all Los Angeles’ single-family homes, would have loosened or even eliminated design, density, height, and marketing restrictions for any residential properties near major rail and bus stops. Just as importantly, it would have stripped Los Angeles and other cities in California of the right to make their own zoning rules, giving the state government unprecedented powers to create or eliminate zoning laws interfering with the construction of additional housing. While SB827 died in committee thanks in large part to opposition from homeowners, LA tenant groups, and organizations concerned about the preservation of historic housing, aspects of the bill were incorporated into SB8, SB9, and SB10, both of which were signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021.
SB8 makes it possible for cities to upzone land faster and more easily than was previously possible while at the same time limiting the ability to downzone land with ease. SB9, which is by far the most controversial bill in the bunch, allows property owners to split a single-family lot into two lots and then place two housing units on each new lot. It also requires cities and counties to automatically approve development proposals that meet specific size and design standards set down by the state. SB10 incorporates Sen. Wiener’s original goal of creating more housing by mass transit locations but is far weaker than SB827 as it merely creates a process that local governments can, if they choose, use to streamline zoning for new multi-unit housing near major rail and bus stops. However, only up to ten limits are allowed per parcel, far fewer than would have been constructed under SB827, which allowed buildings between four and eight stories to be built on land near mass transit sites.
The passage of SB8, SB9, and SB10 will undoubtedly make it possible to build more housing in the City of Angels, but they won’t have a drastic impact on the city’s housing crisis for several reasons. First, homeowners will have to decide if they want to split their lots to build additional housing units. Some will undoubtedly be enthusiastic about the idea, but many will likely be hesitant to do so, especially if they face fierce opposition from neighbors and housing associations. Second, SB10 allows the city rather than landowners to decide if land near public transport can be used for the construction of multifamily housing units. In the latter instance, it is very likely that many landowners would have been able to turn a huge profit on selling land to developers; furthermore, developers would likely have built as much housing as the law would allow in order to turn maximum profits. Another problem with these laws is that they do not address one of the main causes of the lack of housing in Los Angeles, and that is rising building costs. Los Angeles voters approved a $12 billion bond to fund housing for the homeless, but construction can take up to six years to complete and the rising cost of construction materials and labor guarantees the money won’t house as many people as the city originally anticipated.
Perhaps SB827’s greatest achievement is giving the California state government more power over local zoning laws. How this will help LA’s housing crisis remains to be seen; however, a state government theoretically could, in the future, build on its current authority and eliminate single-family zoning state-wide. The notion is not as far-out as it may seem, as some cities in other states are considering legislation to this effect, and it is becoming increasingly clear that half-measures won’t do much to provide Los Angeles residents with affordable housing to rent or purchase.
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