2021 California Housing Legislation Highlights

As of April 6, 2021. Note that bills may be since amended.
This is the summary for 2021. For past years: 2020, 2019

11x17 PDFs
April 6, 2021: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ujuv7716vafwwlm/CA-housing-bills-20210406.pdf?dl=0

Wildfires and Earthquakes

After a couple years of huge wildfires, change is on the way. The strategy combines insurance coverage, retrofitting buildings to be less flammable, and shifting development away from hazardous areas.

SB 11 Insurance coverage for buildings on farms. The California FAIR Plan is an insurer of last resort, that provides coverage when other businesses don’t. However, currently it does not cover farm risk. SB11 would allow farm buildings to be covered, limiting the exclusion to the crops.

SB 12 Mitigation + limits in very high hazard zones. This would limit development in the highest risk zones, and also create a strategy to retrofit existing buildings.

SB 55 Ban on development in very high hazard zones, more height allowed elsewhere. Housing development elsewhere that provide low income units and are eligible for the density bonus get additional height (10 feet or 20%, whichever is more).

SB 63 Defensible space and building hardening. Previous strategy was to provide clear space without plants around a house. However, with recent fires spreading miles away due to embers, there needs to be a shift towards hardening the buildings themselves. That’s what this bill does.

AB 880 Loan fund for rebuilding after disasters. While focused on wildfires, it can also be used for other disasters.

AB 1329 Earthquake-resilient building code. Currently for ordinary buildings, the code only requires they be strong enough to not collapse on top of people, even if it still becomes ususable. AB1329 raises the bar to Functional Recovery, which means that they can be quickly restored to being habitable.

Coastal Areas

We also have a couple bills this year about coastal area. One encourages homes, especially for low income people, or near transit. The other limits it where there’s a risk of sea level rise or other climate change risk.

AB 500 Encourage housing near coast, especially if affordable and/or near transit. Currently the Coastal Act protects and encourages low cost recreational uses on the coast. AB500 would add low & moderate income housing to that list. It would also require new development to enhance housing near transit.

AB 1445 Consider climate change impact in general plans. This means considering things like sea level rise, evacuation routes, and wildfires in where cities plan for future construction.

Zoning

With the shift from cinderblock-and-stucco retail to online shopping, many of this year’s zoning bills are about housing in commercial zones. There are also bills about golf courses, hotels, transit, and parking.

SB 6 Housing in office/retail zones. Some places allow housing in downtowns and other commercial zones, but many places are currently office park or mall only. SB6 would allow housing as well. Skilled & Trained (union) labor required for larger projects.

SB 15 Incentives for cities to rezone retail. One reason many cities zone for retail is they want the sales tax money. As an incentive to allow housing instead, SB15 would give cities money if they rezone.

AB 115 Housing in office/retail zones. Similar to SB6, but broader. It would also raise height limits to the highest zone within a half mile.

SB 261 Sustainable Communities Strategy for regional transportation plans. Would require plans to have a land use strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions & vehicle miles traveled from driving.

SB 621 Hotel conversions. Streamlines the approvals process for converting hotels to housing. Requires 10% of the homes to be for low income people, also requires Skilled & Trained (union) labor.

AB 672 Conversion of golf courses. Would require cities to rezone golf courses so that someone could build a combination of housing and open space.

AB 682 Cohousing with shared kitchens. Allows housing with shared kitchen and living spaces anywhere that regular apartments are allowed.

AB 1401 Removes minimum parking requirements near transit. Applies to commercial and residential uses within a half-mile walk of a train station, ferry terminal, or frequent bus line.

AB 1551 Conversion of commercial space. Allows adaptive reuse of commercial space built in the last 5 years.

Accessory Dwelling Units

Accessory Dwelling Units (backyard cottages and in-law flats) are a booming business in California. This year’s bills would add some additional options and also provide a loan fund.

AB 345 Allows ADUs built by nonprofits to be sold separately. Habitat for Humanity, which builds homes for low income residents, is the sponsor of this bill.

AB 561 Loan fund for building ADUs. Homeowners would be able to use this fund to borrow money to build additional homes on their property.

AB 916 Allows 2-story ADUs in all cities. Currently, cities are required to allow ADUs that are 16 feet high — not quite enough to add a home above a garage. AB916 raises it to 18 feet, which is just enough.

Lot Division

Currently, many cities requires lots of 4,000 square feet or more, even if someone only wants 1,000 square feet of house. Two bills are proposed to allow more small-lot homes.

SB 9 Duplexes & lot splits. Very similar to last year’s SB1120. Would allow a lot to be divided into 2 lots, and each of those two lots to have 2 homes on it — could be a duplex, or two houses. Unlike ADU’s, all 4 homes could be sold separately.

AB 803 Allows more lots to be subdivided. Lots that currently allow apartments would be allowed to be divided into an equal number of small lots for townhouses. These can be easier to finance.

10plexes

A few bills this year are about 10-plexes. Why 10? Depending on unit and lot size, 10 homes is a number that can easily fit on most residential lots that currently have a house.

SB 10 Faster rezoning of land for up to 10 homes per lot. Currently, cities have to go through a lengthy and costly process to rezone, even for small changes. SB10 would simplify that process, as long as the resulting rezone is limited to up to 10 homes per lot.

SB 478 Limits to minimum lot size a city can require. Currently, some zones allow 2–10 units in theory, but also have minimum lot sizes that make it hard to do in practice. SB478 would create a maximum to the minimum lot size a city can require.

AB 1075 Allows up to 10 homes as long as building meets height, yard, etc. requirements. So wherever a house or mansion is OK to build, an apartment building of equal size would also be allowed.

Skilled and Trained (Union) Labor

Two bills to give incentives for contractors to use union workers.

SB 7 Faster approval of projects using S&T workers.

AB 919 Reduces length of time owners can sue for construction defects from 10 years to 5 years if skilled & trained labor is used. Construction defect lawsuits and the associated higher insurance costs are a big reason that developers build apartments instead of condos, which limits homeownership opportunities.

Faster Approvals

A couple of bills about speeding up the project approval process — and one to slow them down on brownfields with hazardous materials.

SB 8 Extends & clarifies the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, which speeds up approvals. The HCA limits the number of public hearings a city can have before approving a project, and also discourages demolition of existing housing.
SB 37 Limits project streamlining on hazmat sites. Due to NIMBYism, a lot of new housing is built on former industrial sites. This bill would stop such sites from being exempt from certain review & public hearing processes.
AB 59 Reforms impact fee process to reduce delays.

Reducing Permit Fees

There’s a legit reason for some fees — cities do need to spend money on more roads, parks, schools, etc. But the wide range of fees from city to city suggests that many are arbitrarily large. These bills reduce and/or make the fees more fair.

AB 571 Exempts inclusionary units from fees. Many cities charge a fee on new private development, using the money to build affordable housing. This bill would exempt any on-site low-income units (often included to meet inclusionary housing requirements or use the density bonus) from having to pay those fees.

AB 602 Requires fees to be based on size of building rather than number of units. Currently some cities charge a mansion and a tiny studio apartment the same fees, discouraging the building of low-cost homes.

SB 695 Limits infrastructure & park impact fees to actual cost of serving the new residents.

General Plan Housing Elements

Every 8 years, California requires cities to identify sites and rezone land for housing, as part of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process. Most of the state is in the middle of that process this year.

AB 215 Cities have to be on track to meet their housing goals at midpoint of 8-year cycle. Cities that fail to produce enough housing lose local control. This would check on them (and apply state overrides if needed) more frequently.

AB 617 Allow cities that don’t zone for enough housing to pay other cities to do it for them. Basically a pay-for-the-right-to-be-exclusionary law.

SB 809 Allows multi-city regional agreements to meet housing goals. So instead of each city having to meet its individual goals, they could meet their combined goal together.

AB 1304 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. Requires cities to consider reducing segregation when they are drawing up their general plans.

AB 1322 Allows cities to rezone to meet state housing laws even if local charter prevents it. For example, some cities currently only allow one house per lot everywhere due to a charter amendment passed by voters. AB1322 would allow city councils to override that if needed to have enough sites to meet housing goals.

Currently, if a city doesn’t rezone enough sites to meet state housing goals, the state can reject their general plan housing element, which means complete loss of local control when it comes to future housing development. AB1322 gives cities otherwise stuck an escape valve.

AB 1486 Streamlines the approval of housing elements. It would exempt the housing element from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process.

Anti-Discrimination

In addition to systematic discrimination caused by outdated zoning, there’s also plain old in-your-face discrimination. Some bills this year seek to reduce that.

SB 238 Makes political affiliation a protected class, similar to things such as gender, race, disability, etc. Applies to housing and employment.

SB 263 Implicit bias training for real estate agents. Two hours every four years when licenses are renewed.

AB 948 Ban on appraisal discrimination, also requires cultural competency training. Appraisers determine how much a home is worth and can affect how much a seller can get for their house. Discrimination ends up increasing the racial wealth gap.

AB 1466 Allows discriminatory language on deed and covenant documents to be removed. Many deeds and covenants contain racist exclusions that while no longer enforceable, are not the kind of thing one wants to see when buying a home. AB1466 would make it easier for these documents to be modified to have that language removed.

(there is also a “ban the box” bill for rental applications (no questions allowed on whether someone has a criminal record), AB1241, which is discussed in a later section.)

Youth Housing

A large part of California’s homeless population are people who age out of foster care and LGBTQ youth kicked out of their homes. There are bills this year to fund housing specifically for this group, as well one that provides an option for caregivers in senior housing.

SB 234 Homes for youth age 12–26. One-time funding of $100,000,000 to a Transition Aged Youth Housing Fund.

AB 413 Homes for former foster youth age 18–24. $13,000,000 a year of statewide funds, plus additional funding for the 11 most expensive counties.

SB 591 Allows some caregivers & age 18–24 youth to live in senior housing. Facilities could choose to allow up to 20% of units to have a non-senior resident.

Tenant Protections

While the big tenant protection bill of 2021 has been around extending the COVID state of emergency, there are also a few bills to make permanent changes.

SB 60 Bigger fines for illegal short term rentals. Many cities have seen permanent housing become vacation rentals, and even after laws are passed against it, since fines are so low. SB60 would up the max fine from $500 to $3000.

SB 64 COVID relief for mobile home residents. Adds protections for mobile home residents who can’t pay rent due to having lost income due to Covid impacts.

AB 838 Requires cities and counties to investigate substandard building complaints. Got lead? Something else that makes your rental in violation of housing code? AB838 would require cities and counties to investigate if they receive a complaint.

AB 854 Limits on when the Ellis Act can be used to close an apartment building and evict everyone. Landlords would have to have owned the building for at least 5 years to use Ellis, and if they do, can’t Ellis anything they buy in the next 10 years.

AB 978 Rent cap + eviction protections for mobile homes. Max annual increase of either inflation+5% or 10%, whichever is less. Similar to 2019’s AB1482, which covered other types of housing.

AB 1487 Legal assistance for eviction defense. Many tenants lose their homes because they don’t know their rights, or can’t afford a lawyer. AB1487 would fund free legal services to tenants.

Homelessness

Several bills around homelessness this year, some improve the quality of shelters, especially for those with pets. Others reduce discrimination, others work on creating a plan to reduce homelessness.

AB 258 Low barrier shelters. This requires shelters that are part of state programs to allow pets, peoples’ partners, have places to store things during the day, privacy, harm reduction approach to drugs, etc.

SB 344 Funding for pet facilities, food, & health at shelters.

AB 362 Shelter health & safety standards. Minimum standards for indoor air quality, sleeping rooms, laundries, etc.

AB 816 Plan to reduce homelessness 90% by 2029. Would involve state agencies and local government.

AB 1000 Ban discrimination based on housing status by making housing status a protected class, similar to race, gender, etc. Would apply to jobs and housing applications. It would also exclude records on sleeping, sitting, living in a car, etc. from background checks.

AB 1360 Requires cities to ensure that people in Project Roomkey/Homekey don’t return to homelessness. This would include keeping the hotels open for another 6–10 months after the state of emergency ends, and having permanent housing available for people to move into.

AB 1372 Right to shelter. Would require local government to provide rent subsidies, job training, etc. if there isn’t enough space in shelters for everyone who needs a spot.

AB 1575 Statewide needs and gaps analysis. Identifies programs to move people into permanent housing.

Ballot Measures

A couple of housing bonds, as well as state ballot measures that affect local ballot measures. These would eventually require voter approval after the Legislature approves it.

ACA 1 Allows local bonds & taxes for housing & infrastructure to pass with 55% majority of the voters. Currently the threshold is 2/3.

SCA 2 Eliminates requirement that public housing be approved by ballot measure. Also known as “Article 34 repeal” as it repeals a 1950s era state constitutional amendment.

SB 5 $6.5 billion affordable housing bond. Would be November 2022 ballot.

AB 411 $600 million bond for housing for veterans. Would be on June 2022 ballot.

Rural Housing

The housing crisis isn’t just in cities. Farmworkers also face a shortage of housing, leading to overcrowding and high percentages of income spent on rent.

AB 125 Rural development bond, including farmworker housing. This $3.1 billion bond is designed to provide relief for the hard-hit rural parts of the state, and also includes infrastructure as well as programs to reduce inequality. It would be on the November 2022 ballot.

AB 687 Creates housing agency in western Riverside County.

Taxes

There are 3 bills about statewide taxes to fund housing, and two that give local governments more options.

AB 71 Tax on large corporations to fund housing, includes closing a loophole on overseas profits. Would raise $2.4 billion a year. Also known as Bring CA Home. https://bringcahome.org/about/our-plan/

AB 464 Allows Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts (EIFD’s) to use
additional property tax revenue for housing and related services. EIFD’s are special districts set up by local government that reinvest increases in tax revenue from an area back into that area.

AB 946 Closes loophole for 2nd homes, funds to assist first-time homebuyers. Currently people get a tax deduction on second home mortgages, whether it’s a vacation home or a property they rent out.

AB 1199 Tax on owners of 10 or more houses or 25 total properties, funds housing, rent assistance. This is to discourage corporations from buying up lots of starter homes and turning it into rentals, which makes it hard for people to become homeowners. The proposed tax would be 25% of rent collected.

AB 1324 Allows EIFD’s to fund affordable housing near transit. It would allow rising tax revenue from land near transit to fund affordable housing.

Data and Reports

A few bills for the state to collect data on housing

AB 27 K-12 student homelessness. Requires schools to find out how many homeless children they have, and provide them with a list of rights and resources.

AB 244 Cost to build affordable housing. The idea is to identify how different factors contribute to costs, so that the state can find the most cost effective methods.

SB 477 Housing production data. Would include number of applications submitted, permits approved, number and location of homes built, and whether they use state law that streamlines the approval process.

AB 1188 Rental registries. Would require any landlord with 5 or more units to report who owns it, what the rent is, when the tenant moved in, number of rooms, etc.

Public Land

The cancellation of I-710 between Alhambra and Pasadena a few years ago left Caltrans as the owner of many buildings that were previously planned to be demolished for the freeway. Recent occupations by activists have created interest in turning these into affordable housing.

SB 51 Offers surplus state-owned homes & land on I-710 corridor to tenants and low income housing organizations. Also allows more density for affordable housing on these lots.

AB 512 Requires Caltrans to sell surplus land from cancelled I-710 for affordable housing at price it was bought at. This would be the original price paid decades ago, and would not be adjusted for inflation.

AB 950 Streamlines sale of surplus Caltrans land for housing. Exempts the sale from having to go through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process.

AB 1271 Prioritizing surplus land on large sites such as former
military bases for affordable housing.

Electrification

Some cities such as Berkeley, Oakland, and San Jose now require new buildings to use electricity rather than natural gas for cooking and heating. 3 new bills seek to expand electrification/decarbonization statewide, while others are about electric car charging.

SB 31 adds building decarbonization (replacing natural gas with electricity) to California’s energy efficiency programs.

SB 32 adds decarbonization as a requirement for cities’ general plans.

SB 68 requires utilities to respond to customer requests to decarbonize their buildings quickly.

AB 113 subsidizes 40% of the cost of installing electric vehicle chargers in apartment buildings, using a state tax credit.

AB 965 would put requirements in the next building code update for electric vehicle chargers in commercial & apartment buildings that have parking.

Preserving Affordable Housing

This has two parts to it. One of them is converting older private housing into affordable housing with income and rent limits. The other is extending the rent limits on buildings where affordability agreements are about to expire.

SB 490 Technical assistance for nonprofits that want to acquire an old building, rehab it, and turn it into low income housing.

AB 528 Sell tax-defaulted property to nonprofits. Would allow counties to sell property where taxes haven’t been paid to nonprofits sooner. Currently the rule is 5 years, or 3 years if the property has been declared a nuisance. AB528 would shorten it to 2 years for nuisance property, or 1 year if it’s also vacant. AB528 would also have counties to sell property that hasn’t paid property taxes at a lower cost, if selling to a nonprofit.

AB 634 Allows cities to require certain affordable housing stay cheap for over 55 years. Current density bonus law requires that any affordable housing units in a building have income/rent restrictions for 55 years. This law clarifies that cities can require longer periods of affordability.

AB 787 Allows conversion of existing market rate housing to affordable to meet housing goals. Converting a unit adds 1 to a city’s progress towards its state-required RHNA low income housing goals, and subtracts 1 from its progress towards its high income housing goals.

AB 1029 Encourage affordability preservation policy. State law requires cities to have a certain number of prohousing local policies. AB1029 adds extending affordability agreements that are about to expire as one such policy a city can use to meet state law.

AB 1516 Tax credits for preserving affordability. This is funding for acquiring existing private mobile home parks and apartment buildings and converting them into income/rent restricted affordable housing.

Funding

California has many state agencies that allocate state money for affordable housing. These bills would consolidate some and set some priorities.

AB 49 Merges the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee (which determines which projects get bond funding) with the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (which gives projects tax credit money).

AB 1135 Consolidates fund allocation committees different state funding programs, including those in Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency, Housing & Community Development, Cal Housing Finance Agency, and California Tax Credit Allocation Committee.

AB 605 Prioritizing shovel-ready projects. Bonus points in the fund allocation process would be given to projects that have all local approvals, and helps meet a city’s state-required housing goals.

Affordable Housing

These include bills about inclusionary income/rent restricted units in private developments, mixed income social housing, affordable housing in HOA communities, and local preference on waitlists.

AB 387 Mixed income social housing. This would be housing built by a public sector agency, with sale or rent of some of the homes cross-subsidizing homes reserved for low income residents. It would also keep construction workers employed during recessions. Note: as of April 6, bill text is a placeholder.

AB 482 Middle income housing pilot program in 3 counties. Would allow housing authorities in San Bernardino County, Santa Clara County, or the city of San Diego to build projects where 10–60% of the homes are for people making between 80 and 150% of median income.

AB 491 Inclusionary units to be distributed throughout bldg. This would prevent a developer from putting all the low income units on one floor or side of a building. It would also give all residents access to all entrances and building amenities.

SB 649 Preference for local residents. This bill would encourage cities to give local preference when new affordable housing is available, to low income residents at risk of displacement in the same neighborhood.

AB 721 Affordable housing to ignore covenants & restrictions. Even if a city changes its zoning, land in an HOA might still have restrictions that prevent apartments from being built. This bill would make those restrictions unenforceable if the building is affordable housing.

SB 728 Allow nonprofits to buy for-sale inclusionary units. They would then be able to rent them to low income residents. For-sale inclusionary units are typically in condo buildings.

AB 1043 Cheaper rents for Deeply Low Income residents in affordable units. (those that have 15% or less of area median income). Currently the existing categories are Extremely Low Income - 30% of area median income, Very Low Income — 50% AMI, and Low Income — 80% AMI.

AB 1068 Model plan for reducing costs through innovation. This could include mixed income housing that cross-subsidizes the low income homes, modular housing, as well as reuse of existing buildings.

Small Scale Affordable Housing

AB 1016 Faster approvals for projects with up to 25 homes. Projects would have to be built by a nonprofit, and can either be a regular apartment building, or houses on subdivided lots.

AB 1206 Tax break for low-income units in limited equity housing cooperatives (LEHC). These are buildings where one can become a homeowner at a greatly subsidized price, but have to sell at a similar price when moving out. Homes in a LEHC occupied by a low income resident would be exempt from property tax. AB1206 would also keep property taxes low when a home is transferred from a LEHC member to a new member.

Re-Entry Housing

California has been working on reducing the prison population. However, many released prisoners end up homeless, as they don’t have a place to return to. Two bills seek to fix this problem.

AB 328 Housing for people released from prison or jail. Takes savings from reduction in prison population and uses it for rental assistance and supportive housing.

AB 1241 “Ban the box” on rental applications. Applications will no longer be able to require tenants to disclose past criminal records. Landlords can still do background checks after receiving the application. If they find anything, they have to notify the applicant and give them time to correct errors in the records or provide an explanation.

School Employee Housing

This is about housing built by school districts for teachers and other staff.

AB 306 Housing for K-12 and community college staff to be reviewed by local building department instead of state. This lowers costs, as local requirements are not as strict as state requirements (Field Act) on earthquake safety.

AB 780 Allows housing for school employees to exceed local zoning. School districts can already exceed local zoning rules when building classrooms, this would expand that exemption for employee housing.

Student Housing

California is about to be hit by the worst student housing crisis in history as students return to college towns and find that most apartments have already been rented to other tenants. We’re going to need lots of new student housing, fast.

SB 290 Density bonus for low income student housing and moderate income housing. For a student housing building, at least 20% of the beds, rooms, or apartments would need to be reserved for low income students.

SB 330 Allow community colleges to lease land or buildings to developers for building low income student housing or housing for low & moderate income employees.

AB 777 Transfers land to UC Davis for staff & student housing. Applies to two large lots currently owned by the state Department of General Services. The bill would transfer it to UCD at no cost.

AB 1277 Faster approvals for student housing. Would apply to both public and private not-for-profit colleges.

AB 1377 Loan fund for public college student housing. Includes University of California, the Cal State system, and community colleges.

PDFs and Posters

11x17 PDF — https://www.dropbox.com/s/ujuv7716vafwwlm/CA-housing-bills-20210406.pdf?dl=0

Order a printed poster — https://www.zazzle.com/2021_california_housing_legislation_april_6_2021_poster-228226847292035147

Artist and Designer in Berkeley, California

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store