Senate Committee Approves Senator Wiener’s Housing Accountability and Affordability Bill

SB 35 – which will create regional housing production and streamline the production of affordable housing -- passes first major hurdle as Senate Transportation and Housing Committee votes 7-4 in favor
March 8, 2017

Today the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee approved Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 35 – which will create a streamlined approval process for housing when cities are not meeting the housing creation goals required by the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). This will expedite the construction of affordable housing. At the hearing, representatives from affordable housing, renters, and business groups testified in support.

Senators Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), Jim Beall (D-San Jose), Richard Roth (D-Riverside), Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), and Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) joined Senator Wiener voting in support of SB 35 in committee, which will now move to a hearing at the Senate Governance and Finance Committee.

“Today’s vote was a critical first step towards addressing our need for more housing in California, particularly for the lower income workers who are finding it increasingly hard to find places to live,” said Senator Wiener. “The health of our state, our economy, and our climate depend on us having housing near where people work. Each city has the power to contribute to building the housing our residents need, and SB 35 will ensure that cities are taking this responsibility seriously. I want to thank my colleagues for supporting SB 35 today, and I look forward to continuing to work with housing advocates, environmentalists, labor groups, and others to address our housing crisis.”

At the hearing, Senator Wiener committed to make amendments to SB 35 that resulted from conversations with advocates, including:

  • Requiring that entitlements for streamlined projects expire after three years. This issue is to ensure that projects that benefit from a streamlined approval process then deliver the units in a timely manner.
  • Change the streamlining trigger evaluation from every two years to every four years. This provides more certainty for projects, better accounts for real estate cycles, and provides a more accurate accumulated average. 
  • Setting streamlining to apply to projects that have a majority of low-income units, if cities are meeting market-rate goals but not low-income goals.
  • Strengthening prevailing wage requirements, including enforcement provisions

Groups that supported either by attending the hearing or sending letters of support include Non-Profit Housing of Northern California, Mercy Housing, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, YIMBY Action, the City of San Francisco, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, Abundant Housing LA, California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, East Bay Forward, Grow the Richmond, Progress Noe Valley, and the San Francisco Yes-In-My-Back-Yard Party.

The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) is the state-mandated process that sets the number of housing units that must be included, at all affordability levels, in each local jurisdiction’s housing element. Under SB 35, if cities aren’t on track to meet those goals, then approval of projects will be streamlined if they meet a set of objective criteria, including affordability, density, zoning, historic, and environmental standards, and if they pay prevailing wage for construction labor. The streamlining applies only to the income levels that aren’t being built -- so if a city is building sufficient market-rate units but not enough low-income units, the project must add low-income units to qualify for streamlined approval.

SB 35 also creates a more robust reporting requirement for housing production by requiring all cities report their annual housing production to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.