Senate Bill 50 aims to increase urban housing capacity and affordability.
California state senator Scott Weiner has embarked on his third year of rallying to pass S.B. 50, a bill that would override local zoning authority throughout the state and permit denser housing solutions near public transit sites.
Developers would be allowed to build duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes in areas formerly zoned for single-family housing, and certain areas could be upzoned even further depending on proximity to jobs or transit.
Why California needs S.B. 50
The effects S.B. 50 would have across the state are being fiercely debated among politicians, economists, and the general public.
Proponents for the bill assert that the state could benefit economically by adding tens of thousands of additional jobs and billions of dollars in investment potential, a boost that is certainly needed.
Supporters also argue that California’s 3.5 million home deficit must be addressed, as skyrocketing housing prices have essentially forced people out of urban areas and contributed to problems like homelessness, real estate sprawl, and excruciatingly long commutes. Could S.B. 50 be the answer?
Currently, large portions of urban areas are zoned for single-family housing, preventing apartment complexes from entering the picture and alleviating the high price of homeownership. Lower-income families are being forced out of cities and into metropolitan peripheries.
The average home price in California is over an astounding $600,000 – far out of reach for the ordinary family looking for a comfortable lifestyle. In San Francisco, that price jumps to $1.6 million, a figure that is mostly unattainable for most. Soaring real estate prices are worsening the inequality gap across the state and fueling the problem of scarce housing for the lower to middle classes.
What are the arguments against S.B. 50?
Opponents of the bill are concerned it will be detrimental to home values and the environment, arguing high rise buildings will disrupt family neighborhoods, create uncontrollable traffic, and take away power from cities for their own planning.
Challengers also fear the bill would actually displace families further and have the opposite effect of what is intended, which is to lower housing costs.
However, according to Weiner, the bill will not infringe on local authority on a number of issues such as permitting, demolition, design structure standards, and more. Local governments will be allowed two years to propose their own “local flexibility plan” which would have to prove a sufficient increase in overall housing capacity. The plans would require approval by the state housing department, otherwise the S.B. 50 upzoning would be implemented by default.
Proponents are certain that creating plentiful housing in urban developments will not increase the cost of housing, but make it cheaper and more attainable.
The California housing crisis needs to be addressed, and quickly. Though Weiner’s bill has been stopped for the past several years, key changes giving local municipalities more power and flexibility could contribute to the bill’s success in the coming months.
S.B. 50 will consequently help California become denser, more sustainable, and ultimately more affordable for the average working family. The bill will hopefully be a lesson for other developed areas across more states facing the same housing issues as California.