The state of California is taking steps to address its housing shortage and homeless crisis with two new laws that could open up much of the state's commercial land for residential development. Homeowners will now be able to construct two 800 square foot homes on their lot or divide their lot in two for a total of four dwellings on a plot that was formerly single-family. This is a long-sought victory for affordable housing advocates, who say these sites are ideal for apartments because they're often close to populated areas and have ample parking. Local government officials are concerned that these laws undermine their authority and years of careful planning that reflect community preferences.
They also point out that stores generate more property taxes for local governments than homes. Housing advocates, however, argue that local governments are often content to let commercial buildings sit empty for years, sometimes for decades, in the hope of finding a replacement that generates more property taxes, rather than changing the law to allow housing there. The two new laws signed by Governor Gavin Newsom will allow developers to build homes on some commercial land without having to ask local governments for permission, as long as a certain percentage of the housing is affordable. The other law will permit developers to build all homes at market prices on some commercial land, which would be more lucrative, but projects would still have to go through an environmental review process. The law also introduces the possibility of creating two-story Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) if certain conditions are met, but ensures that local agencies are not required to allow three-story ADUs. It also prohibits jurisdictions from requiring minimum unit size requirements or minimum bedroom requirements for an eligible shared housing construction project. In addition, the law changes the age requirement for residents for a specific development to receive an elimination of the parking minimums from the current 62 years or older to be 55 years or older.
This method is common in some jurisdictions (such as the city of Berkeley), whose rules were confirmed in a major decision of the Court of Appeals of the Density Bonus Act in 2001, but in many others it represents a significant departure from local agency practice. To reduce California's transportation emissions by 40% by the end of 2030, California intends to electrify the transportation system, according to the California Green Building Standards Code. An earlier alert from Holland & Knight provides a high-level analysis of the two laws to help project applicants and landlords identify if these laws should be further explored to promote housing production in sites with commercial areas. For more information on how to make the most of these and other state housing laws to advance the approval of your project, contact your lawyer from the Holland Environmental Practice Group & Knight West Coast Land Use & Development team. The California legislature continues to respond to the current homeless crisis with new legislation.