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 tabled 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 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 take back some local control over the state’s city and county zoning ordinances. Such land use laws give local governments broad 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 economics theories to the California housing affordability crisis,” San Francisco-based Livable California group said in a letter from Assemblywoman Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, for both Measures agreed.
Newsom didn’t comment directly on the bills, but real estate advocates and experts told The Press Democrat they were confident he would eventually sign it. He has until October 10, after the controversial dismissal earlier this month, to make his decision.
Senator Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who voted for both bills, sees them as an extension of the state’s ongoing commitments for affordable housing, including the $ 10.3 billion in Newsom’s latest approved state budget for the construction of Houses for low-income residents 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 intended for single-family homes only. The restrictive zoning has been described by Klose and other proponents as contributing to racial segregation locally and across the country, as it has long been priceing 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 either lot that was created when it was divided. 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 out 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 tempt property owners to pursue multi-family homes, 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.
Analysis by UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation found that SB 9 would pave the way for around 16,000 new homes to rent or sell in Sonoma County’s “market-driven” situation. That is more than the approximately 14,000 apartments that the state has to approve from the district between 2023 and 2031.