State Senator Tries Again on Transit Density Housing Bill

When cities block TOD, can the state intervene to help solve the housing crisis?

In the middle of a housing crisis, the land adjacent to a Caltrain station sits empty largely thanks to local opposition to development. Image: Wikimedia Commons.
In the middle of a housing crisis, the land adjacent to a Caltrain station sits empty largely thanks to local opposition to development. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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The More HOMES act, a new state housing bill released yesterday from State Senator Scott Wiener, would create new zoning standards for the construction of housing near job centers and public transportation. This new transit-oriented development bill, modeled after the failed SB-827, is the latest attempt to prevent local municipalities from jamming up housing projects near public transit stations.

From Senator Wiener’s statement and Medium post on Senate Bill 50:

We must take bold steps now to address our severe housing crisis and reduce our carbon footprint. California’s housing shortage hurts our most vulnerable communities, working families, young people, our environment, and our economy. It also increases homelessness. For too long we have created sprawl by artificially limiting the number of homes that are built near transit and job centers. As a result of this restrictive zoning in urbanized areas, people are forced into crushing commutes, which undermines our climate goals, and more and more Californians are living in wildfire zones. As educational and economic opportunities become increasingly concentrated in and near urban areas, we must ensure all of our residents are able to access these opportunities.

(The “HOMES” part of the bill title is for “Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity, and Stability.”)

The pro-housing group, California YIMBY, worked on the bill and is asking people to sign a petition in its favor. “The More HOMES Act creates new incentives for the construction of housing within one-half mile of existing transit stations in California cities, and includes protections against displacement for renters and sensitive communities living in those areas,” wrote the advocacy group in a statement.

The Los Angeles Times’s Liam Dillon did a great analysis of the legislation, explaining why some groups that opposed 827 are in favor of this new attempt. Put simply, the new legislation contains provisions to protect against displacement, by blocking developers from knocking down certain types of existing housing. It also has incentives to push into wealthy areas that have previously blocked TODs.

“While there are still details in the bill to be worked out, such as affordability requirements, it looks like a tremendous improvement over SB 827. One of the biggest improvements is in the area of tenant protections; sites wouldn’t be eligible if they had been occupied by tenants within seven years preceding the date of the application. While this will reduce the number of eligible sites, it negates the potential for the loss of significant rental stock upon signing of the bill,” wrote Stuart Cohen of TransForm, an organization that did not support SB 827, in an email to Streetsblog. “The last thing we need is a new round of displacement.”

“The bill also now applies to job-rich areas even if they don’t have qualifying transit access,” continued Cohen. “In these areas, as well as near high-quality bus-corridors, there would be no density restrictions and minimum parking would be capped at 0.5 spaces per unit. Building heights would not change from existing codes. What this does is allow more units but without changing the character of communities.”

The building height provision may be key to getting buy-in from San Francisco, although it does mandate increased height limits near rail stations, as Wiener stressed in his Medium post (see photo below):

Within ½ mile of fixed rail, a city may not impose maximum height limits lower than either 55 feet or 45 feet. (Bus stops and job-rich areas will not trigger height increases; rather local height limits will apply.) SB 50 defers to local design standards, inclusionary housing requirements, setback rules, demolition standards (unless they are too weak), and height limits (except near fixed rail stops).

"The type of multi-family housing SB 50 would authorize" wrote Wiener in his Medium post, which included this photo
This is an example of the type of “…multi-family housing SB 50 would authorize,” wrote Wiener in his Medium post

Combined with bills (now law) such as A.B. 2923, which gives BART more control over how it develops its station areas, and S.B. 35, there might yet be some hope for solving the Bay Area’s acute housing deficit.

For more information on the legislation, check out this fact sheet. Or read the legislation itself.

  • Daisy’s World

    For the second legislative session in a row, the California legislature is set to consider a bill that would allow dense development around transit stops in cities throughout the state. We must take bold steps now to address our severe housing crisis and reduce our carbon footprint,” Wiener said in a statement. “For too long we have created sprawl by artificially limiting the number of homes that are built near transit and job centers. One such measure is a ban on demolition of apartment buildings occupied or recently occupied by renters. Another is a provision that delays implementation of the bill up to five years in communities where tenants are most likely to be displaced. Those areas would be identified by the state’s housing department and based on the percentage of renters living below the regional poverty line. http://www.daisylimo.com

  • murphstahoe

    Perfect.

    So look at Bart’s example of SMART. Windsor, under the leadership of Mayor Debora Fudge, is doing a lot of dense growth for such a small suburbanish town, adding retail and residential in their downtown core which is near the proposed SMART station which is now funded via RM-3 and the gas tax. They are doing this growth without prompting.

    The next station up the line would be Healdsburg. That’s a more mixed bag. Healdsburg has had a growth management ordinance that has restricted housing growth for over a decade. A repeal effort went to the ballot and failed. Another bite at the apple providing deed restricted housing for a higher level of incomes (up to 140% of AMI) finally passed. More relevant – the State Senator from Healdsburg voted against SB827. Senator McGuire pointed out some things he said were flaws in SB827, we’ll see where he falls on SB50. Unless the tenor becomes much more positive, I can’t see any reason to invest the 100M or more to extend to a town resisting the sort of growth that a train extension calls for.

  • Chris

    Although this bill would be an improvement over the status quo, the cumulative effect of all the exceptions included in the bill will greatly limit its effectiveness.

  • DrunkEngineer

    The Nimby types already assume new stations bring development (the backlash will be there regardless).

    Sen Wiener also pointed out that it is a huge waste to build new stations in locations not allowing higher density. So if the bill directs more money to transit-oriented cities, that would be better over all.

  • thielges

    I’m in favor of this bill though am concerned with the backlash it may cause against new rail transit. Such a bill would mean that any new rail stations automatically come with increased density entitlements. It will induce a politically unfavorable “there goes the neighborhood!” objection to the rail project. We’ve already seen people raising the boogieman of SB-827 (see comments in the Marin IJ re: SMART stations) even though 827 was never signed into law.

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