By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – California legislative leaders have announced support for two measures allowing housing development on much of the state’s commercial land, which could mean millions of new homes amid a housing crisis.
Leading lawmakers announced Thursday that they would support two measures – Assembly Bill 2011 and Senate Bill 6 – allowing housing production in commercial areas, like places zoned for retail and office spaces. AB 2011 would allow developers to use a streamlined approval process for building in commercial zones so long as a certain percentage of the units are affordable housing. SB 6 would allow market-rate housing development in commercial zones, though projects would still remain subject to a local approval process.
While both bills apply to commercial sites, they have two key differences: affordability standards and labor standards. AB 2011 sets a requirement for a certain number of units built to be affordable housing, while SB 6 was amended Thursday to reduce its affordability requirement to zero.
On the labor side, SB 6 requires developers to pay a prevailing wage and utilize a “skilled and trained workforce” to take advantage of the streamlined zoning process in commercial zones. The bill was amended Thursday to do away with the skilled workforce requirement if a developer receives fewer than two bids from qualified contractors, though they are still required to pay a prevailing wage. AB 2011, on the other hand, would require workers to be paid a prevailing wage and be offered healthcare when working on a development with 50 or more units.
The legislative agreement on both bills came after weeks of negotiations over the labor provisions in AB 2011. The bill, backed by affordable housing developers and the state’s carpenter union and opposed by the Building and Construction Trades Council, struggled to reach a compromise on the labor standards, as reported by CalMatters.
Thursday’s legislative agreement aims to strike a balance that satisfies the need for affordable housing with the desires of labor groups by offering developers a choice. Builders who want to develop housing in commercial zones can either comply with the bill that requires affordable housing without a skilled and trained workforce, or they can comply with the bill that requires a skilled workforce and does not require affordable housing.
AB 2011 author Assemblymember Buffy Wicks told The Center Square that the two bills represent the “most robust housing production packages we’ve seen in recent years.”
“The streamlining of each bill is different and the labor provisions are different, but they’re very complimentary. They work really well together and they give something for everyone to love, Assemblymember Wicks said. “We really view this as pretty transformative for housing policy here in California.”
Assemblymember Wicks estimated that in the coming years, AB 2011 could result in the production of up to two million units of housing. The bill is awaiting a hearing on the Senate floor.
The package of bills received the backing of carpenters unions and the State Building and Construction Trades Council, representing thousands of workers. The NorCal Carpenters Union praised AB 2011 for its provisions to “raise the wages and improve the working conditions for tens of thousands of low-wage construction workers,” while the State Building and Construction Trades Council applauded SB 6 as a “game changer for working families to achieve the American Dream and it will protect workers from exploitation.”
The two bills also received the support of Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood.
“The best legislative achievements – like this one – only come when you see negotiations as a non-zero-sum game,” Assemblymember Rendon said in a statement. “We didn’t go into this to have one side win at the expense of another. As a result, we have a housing victory that checks off a lot of the boxes – affordability, mixed-use, transit accessibility and labor security.”
The altered measures must pass legislative muster before sponsors can send either to Gov. Gavin Newsom.