Berkeleyside Opinion: Real progressives would embrace Scott Wiener’s SB 827 housing bill
By Markos Moulitsas
For decades, efforts to restrict new housing in Berkeley and the broader Bay Area have driven up housing costs, pushed out low-income residents, and reinforced historical, racially discriminatory housing policies. Our city’s and region’s failure to build adequate housing is also exacerbating climate change by giving our middle-income workers no choice but to commute long distances in their cars.
Meanwhile, homeowners sitting on million-dollar-plus properties benefit as the artificially constrained housing market heaps unearned value into their homes.
In common political parlance, this effort to lock in the status quo on behalf of the wealthy, and to prevent change at all costs, would be considered “conservative.” So it is genuinely ironic that it’s so-called “progressives” driving such restrictions. And it was genuinely bizarre seeing some affordable housing advocates allied with white, wealthy outposts like Beverly Hills and Marin County to kill SB 827, as the battle for a solution to the housing crisis screeched to a halt in Sacramento.
SB 827, introduced by liberal San Francisco State Sen. Scott Wiener, essentially legalized urban, transit-oriented housing. The bill would have made it dramatically easier to build new housing near major transit hubs by removing the ability of cities to block such housing on spurious grounds. Under SB 827, developers seeking to build multi-family housing on properties within a quarter mile of major transit stations could build apartments up to 55 feet, without needing to worry about delays due to neighbor complaints about “shadows” or “neighborhood character” or that most sacred of California sacred cows — parking for cars.
In recognition of the need for cities to maintain some oversight of development within their boundaries, SB 827 subjected developers to local community benefits requirements such as affordable housing minimums. The bill also protected renters by ensuring that any tenants displaced by new construction were offered a new apartment—at the same rent, in the same building—plus temporary accommodations provided during construction (including moving costs). This was a dramatic expansion of renter protections beyond current law.
And the bill addressed the housing crisis on a regional and statewide level. It would no longer be possible for some cities to put up barriers to new construction, forcing others to shoulder the load. It was genuinely equitable.