A new California housing law has done little to encourage building, the report says


Once seen as the death knell for California’s single-family neighborhoods, a new law intended to create more duplexes has instead done little to encourage construction in some of the state’s largest cities, according to a new report released Wednesday.

Senate Bill 9 was introduced two years ago as a way to solve California’s severe housing crisis by allowing homeowners to convert their homes into duplexes on a single-family lot or divide the lot in half to build another duplex for a total of four units. The law came into force in early 2022.

The bill received bipartisan support and sparked fierce debate between funders, who said SB 9 was a much-needed tool to add housing options to middle-income Californians, and critics, who decried it as a radical unified policy. that undermined local government control.

Neither argument has proved true so far.

In 13 cities across the state, SB 9 projects are “limited or non-existent,” according to a new study from the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation.

The report focused on cities that are considered high-potential areas for duplexes, as they have reported significant increases in recent years in the construction of additional housing units – known as granny flats, casitas or ADUs – and have single-family homes available for possible divided homes. a lot. ADUs are small, detached homes usually built in the backyards of existing single-family homes.

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The cities are: Anaheim, Bakersfield, Berkeley, Burbank, Danville, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Maria, and Saratoga.

At the end of November, 282 applications had been submitted for SB 9 projects and only 53 had been approved. Los Angeles had the largest share of applications with 211 filed, according to the report, and had 38 approved. San Francisco received 25 applications and approved four, while San Diego received seven and approved none.

Three cities received one application, and Bakersfield, Danville, and Santa Maria submitted none.

Lot splitting applications seem to be even less popular than building duplexes. According to the report, only 100 applications had been submitted and 28 had been approved.

Terner Center policy director David Garcia said the new law is only in its first year of implementation and should be given more time before it is deemed ineffective. But he added that lawmakers should consider whether SB 9 should be amended.

“It doesn’t appear that Senate Bill 9 has resulted in very large amounts of new housing in its first year,” Garcia said. “Virtually everywhere you look, Senate Bill 9 activity is very marginal. In some places it doesn’t exist.”

Homeowners currently have an easier time building an ADU than a duplex, thanks to local and state laws that have relaxed construction barriers in recent years, Garcia said. It took multiple rounds of legislation to see productive ADU development, and the same is likely to be true for SB 9 projects, he added.

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The report suggested reducing new development fees or adding more uniform standards for SB 9 projects to ensure local governments can’t add subjective criteria that discourage applications, such as architectural design requirements or strict landscape regulations. It also proposed revising a mandate requiring homeowners who split their lots to live in one of the units for at least three years, a major concession lawmakers made to mitigate opposition from organizations concerned about gentrification.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), author of the legislation, said SB 9 “was never intended to solve our housing shortage overnight.”

“We’ve always said that not every homeowner would be able or willing to use the bill’s tools on day one,” Atkins said in a statement. “Dividing a lot, or even adding an ADU, is a major investment. This bill was never intended to be a sledgehammer — it was designed to increase housing supply over time, and as awareness of the law grows and more homeowners can embrace the tools, I’m confident we’ll see results. ”

Garcia and other housing experts said the slow progress could also be attributed to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as building materials prices skyrocketed and homeowners and buyers faced significant market uncertainty. That was followed by high inflation and interest rates.

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While the report provides lawmakers with a limited snapshot of how SB 9 has worked so far, the state is also expected to have more robust data this summer.

Any attempt to modify SB 9 this year, however, is sure to meet resistance from many of the dozens of cities and neighborhood associations that tried to block its passage in 2021. Since then, some cities have gone to great lengths to prevent the law from being introduced. , including the Silicon Valley suburb of Woodside, which declared itself a mountain lion sanctuary and invited a stern warning of compliance from the attorney general’s office.

Matthew Lewis, spokesperson for California YIMBY, a housing advocacy group that supported SB 9, said it might be worth going back to the drawing board to make sure local governments do what they can to ease the burden on duplex development. light up.

“The reality is that people will take the path of least resistance to build the house they want. And if there’s still a lot of resistance to SB 9 — which I think there is — then we’ll get what we’d expect,” Lewis said. “So as we learn what works and what doesn’t, I think we are always willing to go back and improve the legislation.”