Lawmakers in California have spent years trying to deal with a housing shortage in the state that some experts put as high as 3.5 million units. Three efforts to revise certain zoning laws have failed in recent years, but a less aggressive bill was passed by the legislature in August and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 14. The California Housing Opportunity and More Efficiency Act addresses the housing shortage by allowing property owners in certain neighborhoods to build up to four housing units on lots that are currently zoned for a single residence.
The bill is part of a $22 billion legislative package designed to tackle housing shortages and homelessness in California, but many of its critics say that it does not go far enough. They also point out that the bill’s language does not state that the new homes built must be affordable. This is a hot-button issue because home prices in California have risen by more than 20% in just the last 12 months.
The lawmaker who sponsored the bill hoped to assuage his critics by including a provision that requires property owners who take advantage of the new zoning rules to use one of the units they build as their primary residence for at least three years. This has not silenced opponents or convinced experts that the bill will have a positive effect. When researchers from UC Berkley studied the likely impact of revising California’s zoning laws, they concluded that the changes would fall far short of solving the state’s real estate shortage.
Legislative efforts usually have both avid supporters and fierce critics, and new laws sometimes create more problems than they solve. It remains to be seen what the long-term effect of the new zoning rules will be, but few could argue that action is needed to deal with a looming housing crisis.