By RIA ROEBUCK JOSEPH
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) — Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener — along with advocates for high density affordable housing for low- and middle- income communities — has announced a new bill to ensure the construction of mixed-income housing developments.
“It only makes sense to do more of what works,” Sen. Wiener said Monday as he spoke about the bill.
Senate Bill 423 proposes to permanently extend the provisions of SB 35, which fast tracked infill housing in cities that failed to meet their housing goals as set out in their housing elements.
Using a process called ministerial approval, SB 35 eliminated the need for lengthy environmental impact studies for compliance with California Environmental Quality Act and removed discretionary permits. The bill, passed in 2017 and also introduced by Sen. Wiener, bypassed control of locally elected officials requiring local governments to approve projects if a city failed to build enough affordable housing as mandated by the state. The San Francisco Planning Department reported that approvals for housing development have been reduced to four months from as much as three years since AB 35 went into effect.
Several cities in California require a local vote by residents to approve new developments in the cities where they live. If, however, the city does not keep pace with housing needs, SB 35 could take effect.
In San Francisco, about 3,000 housing units have been built by developers who invoked the law when San Francisco fell short of meeting housing targets.
“You know SB 35 and other streamlined laws, the purpose is, the way the housing system is set up in California, that even if someone comes forward, whether a nonprofit builder or a for profit builder, and says, ‘I want to build a building that is exactly — complies with your rules — I just want to follow all your rules and build (it in a way to) comply with all your rules,’ in California, what we say is that’s not good enough,” Sen. Wiener explained at the news conference. “Even though you’re following every single rule, you still have to go through this discretionary process where your project could be killed or cut in half or delayed for years, even though you’re complying with all the rules. All this bill says is that you have to, if someone follows all the rules that have been set out, they get their permit.”
The director of public policy for the Inner City Law Center, Hahdi Manji, emphasizing his support for the bill, stated, “There are 150,000 homeless people in California, 50,000 in L.A. County alone, 1.2 million rent burdened households throughout the state of California, 500,000 in L.A. County.”
SB 423 is supported by the carpenters union, who pre-built modules that were later erected at the site. The bill includes requirements to pay appropriate wages, provide health care benefits, protect construction workers and employ apprentices.
Sen.Wiener tweeted “SB 35 expires at the end of 2025. This new legislation removes that expiration date. In addition to various technical changes to improve the bill’s application, it also makes changes to ensure it accelerates both below market rate & mixed income housing creation.” According to the senator it has streamlined 12,000 homes statewide with approximately 3,000 homes in San Francisco alone. About 75% of them are below market rate.
The California Housing Consortium, the California Conference of Carpenters, Inner City Law Center, Local Initiative Support Corp. (San Diego) and California YIMBY, co-sponsors of the bill joined Sen. Wiener at the news conference to announce the bill.
“SB 35 has led to the development of thousands of subsidized affordable homes across California – along with good jobs for construction workers,” said Brian Hanlon, CEO of California YIMBY. “By expanding its provisions to create stronger incentives for mixed-income housing, we’ll give builders the certainty they need to ramp up construction of housing for all Californians, while creating a pathway to grow our state’s pool of skilled homebuilders.”
California Yimby, in a released statement noted SB 423 allows permit streamlining for both 100% subsidized affordable housing, and mixed-income housing that sets aside units for lower-income residents. In the five years since SB 35 went into effect, its streamlined process has led to the streamlined approval of over 11,000 new homes, most of them subsidized homes affordable to low-income households.”
“California needs all of its best tools to meet our aggressive & essential housing goals. We must not let one of our most effective streamlining laws lapse as we work to build 2.5 million new homes over the next 8 years,” Sen. Wiener tweeted.