Commentary Bill Creates Blueprint for More Housing Construction

June 22, 2017

Commentary Bill Creates Blueprint for More Housing Construction

Image result for housing construction blueprint    Too many San Diegans cannot afford the most basic of human needs: an affordable home to rent or own. The median home price in the San Diego region is now $564,000, according to new data released this week from the California Association of Realtors. A San Diego family needs to earn $115,000 per year just to afford the mortgage, something only 28 percent of families in the region can do, according to the same report. At the same time, rents are soaring, pricing many people out of housing they can afford to rent.

    The League of California Cities recognizes the important role that local governments play in planning and approving housing in our communities. That is why the league is actively involved in the efforts in Sacramento to pursue new tools and reforms that will help create a blueprint for more housing construction.

    While there are many factors that influence housing prices, virtually all of the experts agree that California is not building enough housing to meet our demand. Lack of adequate supply is leading to inflated prices in virtually all regions of the state. If we do not remove the barriers to housing construction, the affordability crisis will continue to grow and families will continue to be priced out of our communities.

    At the center of our blueprint package is SB 540, the Workforce Housing Opportunity Zone, by state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside. SB 540 would give local governments new tools to plan for housing and create a more streamlined path for approval by eliminating some of the delays and uncertainty that currently impede housing construction.

    Specifically, under SB 540, cities and counties would identify priority housing areas — called Workforce Housing Zones — within their boundaries. The local government would conduct enhanced planning, necessary environmental reviews and public engagement at the front end of the project planning phase with specific details as to what type of housing would be built within the zone.

    This means that before new housing projects are even proposed, developers would know all of the conditions for development, including traffic mitigation measures, parking requirements, design review standards, and any environmental review and mitigation required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

    Because the local government has fully conducted the extensive environmental reviews at the front-end, no project-specific additional environmental reviews would be necessary and housing construction within these planned areas could proceed in an expedited manner. By some estimates, SB 540 would shave one to two years off the development timeline without compromising public health, local government decision-making or the rights of citizens to participate in local land use decisions.

    Not all projects would qualify. SB 540 requires these zones to focus on housing in areas close to jobs and transit. To be eligible, half of all units within the zone must be sold or rented to households with very low to moderate incomes.

    The league is supportive of other policy proposals as well to increase housing supply and affordability, including much-needed funding for affordable housing through SB 2, the Building Homes and Jobs Act, and SB 3, The Affordable Housing Bond Act of 2018.

    There has been criticism of local governments for the lack of construction in our communities. While some of this criticism might be justified, much of it ignores the realities of the private housing market, the limited resources for affordable housing and the myriad of conditions that encourage or discourage new housing development.

    In fact, throughout the state, tens of thousands of housing units have been approved by local governments, but developers have not built because the market conditions are not yet optimal.

    The League of California Cities is concerned about various legislative proposals that would undercut the heart of local decision-making and city land-use authority, while also undermining the ability of local residents to have a voice in the development process in our communities. We believe we can reform our state’s housing laws in a way that produces more housing for all of our residents, while preserving local control and important opportunities for local community input.

    There is much we can do to encourage housing construction to address the affordability crisis. Local governments stand ready to be part of responsible solutions.

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