Fighting our housing crisis: the facts about my housing legislation, SB 50

My office has been hard at work to develop housing policy to improve our terrible housing crisis. Housing is outrageously expensive in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and through most of California. The cost of housing is threatening our community’s future. Too many people are being evicted and displaced, families are being forced to move, and young people can’t get a foothold. Our state’s economy, environment, and diversity are at risk.

The heart of our housing crisis is California’s 3.5 million home deficit. That huge deficit is approximately equal to the housing deficits of the other 49 states combined. Yes, you read that right: California’s housing deficit is so large that it’s about equal to the other 49 states combined.

We need bold action to address this crisis, which is why I’m authoring Senate Bill 50, the More HOMES (Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity, and Stability) Act. SB 50 has a very simple premise: as we add these 3.5 million homes, we should do so near public transportation and near where people work. Otherwise, we will simply build more sprawl, which forces people into crushing commutes, increases carbon emissions, and clogs our freeways. Unfortunately, many cities, including San Francisco, zone huge amounts of land near transit and near jobs only for single-family homes. This zoning effectively bans apartment buildings — even small ones — and bans affordable housing. It also ensures that very few people can live near where they work or live near public transportation. SB 50 sets standards for zoning near transit and jobs by legalizing small to mid-size apartment buildings and affordable housing.

Over the past year and a half, we have engaged a broad set of stakeholders to craft SB 50, including affordable housing and tenants advocates, non-profit affordable housing developers, environmental advocacy groups, housing experts, business groups, neighborhood groups, and local elected officials and planners. Based on this work, we crafted a policy that has earned a 74% approval rating in San Francisco, according to a recent poll, and has been described by Vox as the bill that would fix California’s housing crisis.

Our housing deficit of over 3.5 million homes requires bold action. Our state’s economy, environment, and future is at stake. I hope you will join me and leaders throughout our state in fighting for more homes. SB 50 can have a real impact on our housing crisis, and we will need your support to help make that happen. Please take a look below to find out what some of the most credible organizations and leaders in California are saying, to receive correct information regarding some common misconceptions about the bill, and to find out what you can do to help.

What others are saying:

“Many older adults who can afford to stay in California are seeing family members, close friends, and caregivers leave the state due to the high cost of housing. We’re hopeful that the More HOMES Act will help correct this and provide more housing stability for Californians of all ages. -Nancy McPherson, AARP California State Director

“SB 50 is designed to help ensure that California’s current and future housing needs are met in ways that address the soaring demand to live near public transportation and jobs, while assisting the state to achieve our climate goals.” — Amanda Eaken, Director of the Transportation and Climate Program at Natural Resources Defense Council

“NPH is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 50 because it creates new housing near transit, increases affordable housing opportunity in historically exclusionary communities, and provides critical tenant protections. This bill supports our commitment to producing, protecting, and preserving affordable opportunities for our most vulnerable community members.” — Amie Fishman, Executive Director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California

“I have seen too many people I grew up with pushed out of San Francisco because we have not built enough housing, especially affordable housing, throughout our entire City. I look forward to working with Senator Wiener and others to make sure SB 50 creates more housing opportunities near transit, while maintaining strong renter protections and demolition restrictions so we are focusing development on empty lots and underutilized commercial spaces.” — San Francisco Mayor London Breed

“SB 50 is likely to result in significantly greater housing production across all density controlled districts, and thus would also produce more affordable housing through the on-site inclusionary requirement.” — San Francisco Planning Department, Memo to the Planning Commission for March 14, 2019. Full report here.

“Working families are under immense pressure in the Bay Area. The housing and affordability crisis they are facing demands an urgent response that will have a real impact. Updating zoning standards to allow higher density housing on transit corridors would be just what the doctor ordered.” — Maureen Sedonaen, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco

Other endorsers include:

The State Building and Construction Trades Council, the California League of Conservation Voters, CALPIRG, Environment California, the California Apartment Association, the BART Board of Directors, the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (CaRLA), and a host of other renter, business, and labor organizations.

It also enjoys bi-partisan support from members of the Legislature and support from numerous mayors and city council members from around the state including Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has made positive statements regarding the direction of the bill.

Common misconceptions:

“SB 50 will lead to enormous towers everywhere!”

The maximum height allowed under SB 50 is 4–5 stories, and these buildings are only allowed next to train station and ferries. Next to bus stops the local height limit will apply. The apartment buildings authorized under SB 50 already exist all over San Francisco. They used to be legal but were banned in the 1970s, as the city down-zoned. Below is an image of the types of buildings that would be legalized under SB 50.

“This will lead to only luxury condos being built.”

SB 50 has strong inclusionary zoning requirements that ensure that apartment buildings built under the law have units affordable to lower income residents. SB 50 sets an affordability percentage of at least 15%-25%, but if the local affordability requirement is higher than the minimum requirements set out by the bill, then the local requirement applies.

“Traffic will be terrible!”

New infill housing near transit and jobs actually reduces traffic. Since people will be living closer to where they work, more people will ride transit or drive shorter distances.

“We will lose all local decision making control.”

Almost every decision made by a local government on housing will continue to be made at the local level. All housing projects will still be subject to environmental review, existing labor and employment standards for new construction, local development fees, community engagement processes, local design standards, local inclusionary housing standards, local demolition controls, and local approval processes. SB 50 simply relaxes zoning density near transit and jobs. Here’s a piece I wrote last year relating to the predecessor to SB 50, which is equally applicable to SB 50.

“Neighborhoods will be bulldozed to make room for new housing!”

SB 50 does not override or change local demolition restrictions. Local governments will retain existing authority to ban, prohibit, or restrict demolition of existing housing. SB 50 has specific protections for tenants by banning demolitions for buildings occupied by renters in the past 7 years and for buildings that have had an Ellis Act eviction in the past 15 years.

“Our schools/ water/ infrastructure can’t handle more people.”
The reality is that people will move to cities regardless of whether we build housing for them or not. The result is that they will put pressure on the market to displace the existing community. Or, people who commute in to job centers like San Francisco will continue to use and clog up the infrastructure. Cities must plan for growth not ignore it. New housing also pays impact fees and property taxes, which would be true of the housing built under SB 50. This will raise revenues for improved services. In addition, I will continue my long-term commitment to increasing infrastructure funding.

What you can do:

Please write or call your representatives and share this post with your friends and family in California and tell them to contact their local and state representatives.

Become a community co-sponsor!

CA State Senator. Urbanist. Environmentalist. Advocate for transit, housing, clean energy, criminal justice reform, health, ending poverty. Democrat. 🏳️‍🌈

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