Senate Passes Senator Wiener’s Legislation to Enable More Housing Density (SB 902) and Require Cities to Allow Homeless Shelters (SB 1138)

June 22, 2020

SACRAMENTO - Today, two of Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) bills — SB 902 and SB 1138 — passed the Senate by votes of 33-3 and 30-8 respectively. The legislation now heads to the Assembly. These two bills — together and in combination with Senator Wiener’s SB 899 (which will be voted on later in the week) — will help alleviate California’s intertwined housing shortage and homelessness crisis.

SB 902 provides cities with a powerful new tool to quickly re-zone for increased density, and SB 1138 closes loopholes in housing law to require cities and counties to zone for and allow shelters for homeless individuals so they can access critical services and get connected to permanent housing. California already had a 3.5 million homes shortage and housing affordability crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic, and now faces an even greater challenge. SB 902 and 1138 will help spur increased housing density and shelter creation in areas connected to transit and jobs, in order to make housing more affordable and help unhoused people get back on their feet. 

SB 902 creates a new tool for cities to quickly upzone non-sprawl areas (infill, transit-rich, and job-rich areas) up to ten-unit apartment buildings. Cities will be able to pass an ordinance increasing density in these areas without having to go through a lengthy CEQA process, which can last years and even more than a decade. This streamlining tool, if it becomes law, would be the most powerful one for cities to increase density. SB 902 is a key piece of the Senate’s housing package.

SB 1138 — sponsored by the Western Center on Law and Poverty and California Rural Legal Assistance — provides enforceable standards to ensure that cities are zoning for and allowing shelters to be built in a streamlined process. The bill also ensures that shelter zones will be established in areas that have physical space in which to build a shelter and that are near or connected by transit to services such as job training, substance use recovery, and healthcare. Finally, the bill closes loopholes that some cities use to avoid approving a housing element.

“California’s longstanding severe housing shortage and homelessness crisis are only getting worse due to COVID-19 and the resulting economic collapse,” said Senator Wiener. “We must take bold steps to empower cities to build more housing, to ensure that housing is environmentally sustainable, and to end the moral crisis of homelessness. SB 902 and SB 1138 are significant steps to meaningfully tackle two of the most severe problems facing our state.”