Housing costs for many residents continue to rise in Sonoma County and across California.
Politicians have increasingly pointed to small, “naturally affordable” apartments as the key solution. Last month, California lawmakers acted on that belief and put forward two controversial bills designed to facilitate the construction of modest single-family homes, semi-detached houses, and downsized apartment blocks across the state.
Local housing advocates and property developers praise the measures as incremental but important steps in alleviating the shortage of affordable housing in the North Bay.
“This is definitely a statement to local jurisdictions that the state takes housing seriously,” said Jen Klose, director of Generation Housing in Sonoma County. “It’s not enough, but it’s a great start.”
If signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, the new bills – the latest piecemeal housing code after a series of failed attempts to pass broader measures – could remove some local control over the city and county territories in the state. Such land use laws give local governments complete control over the extent and location of various types of developments.
Many community groups are urging Newsom to veto both bills, arguing that the proposed laws are only in the interests of builders, while also damaging the character of local neighborhoods and having a negative impact on the environment.
“(The bills) would apply the failed trickle-down economy theories to the California residential affordability crisis,” San Francisco-based group Livable California said in a letter that voted for both measures.
Newsom has not commented directly on the bills, but housing advocates and experts told the press democrat they were confident he would eventually sign it. He has until October 10, after this month’s controversial dismissal, to make his decision.
Senator Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who voted for both bills, sees them as an extension of the state’s ongoing obligations for affordable housing, including the $ 10.3 billion in Newsom’s latest approved state budget for low-income construction Houses are provided.
“A lot of people talk about the affordable housing crisis, but now is the time to respond to the affordable housing crisis,” said McGuire.
One of the bills known as SB 9, co-drafted by McGuire, targets areas reserved for single-family homes only. The restrictive zoning has been described by Klose and other proponents as a contribution to racial segregation locally and across the country, as it has long priced disadvantaged communities out of many suburbs.
To encourage more development in these neighborhoods, the bill would allow most homeowners to split their property in half and build or convert up to two houses on each of the lots if space permits. That means allowing up to four apartments in areas that currently only allow one.
Owners are free to rent or sell houses or maisonettes on both plots that have been created in Split. To prevent speculation by investors, the bill stipulates that a homeowner must live on the property for three years once they receive approval to divide a property.
The bill would also streamline permits for new construction on the land while local governments retain control over many height, scale, and design standards. However, homeowners in designated historic neighborhoods or “environmentally sensitive” areas, including fire hazard zones, may not be eligible under the action.
Amy Christopherson Bolten, director of operations at Christopherson Builders of Santa Rosa, said Sonoma County has a significant number of single-family homes that offer plenty of room for additional homes. Bolten said the bill could entice developers into pursuing multi-family housing projects, which can be more financially viable than building just a single-family home.
“You could double the housing stock and make it more affordable,” said Bolten.
A analysis UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation found that SB 9 would pave the way for around 16,000 new homes to be “marketable” to rent or sell in Sonoma County. That is more than the approximately 14,000 apartments that the state has to approve from the district between 2023 and 2031.
Of course, it remains to be seen how many property owners would actually use the possible new regulations. Stephen Marshall, founder of Sonoma Manufactured Homes, which specializes in the construction of prefabricated homes, described the prospect of upgrading single-family homes as an “obvious gold rush.”