Lodi News-Sentinel

Report: New California housing law has done little to encourage building

- Hannah Wiley

Once seen as the death knell for single-family neighborho­ods in California, a new law meant to create more duplexes has instead done little to encourage constructi­on in some of the largest cities in the state, according to a new report published Wednesday.

Senate Bill 9 was introduced two years ago as a way to help solve California’s severe housing crunch by allowing homeowners to convert their homes into duplexes on a single-family lot or divide the parcel in half to build another duplex for a total of four units. The law went into effect at the start of 2022. The bill received bipartisan support and ignited fierce debate between its backers, who said SB 9 was a much-needed tool to add housing options for middle-income California­ns, and critics, who blasted it as a radical one-sizefits-all policy that undermined local government control.

Neither argument has so far proved to be true.

Across 13 cities in the state, SB 9 projects are “limited or non-existent,” according to a new study by the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation.

The report focused on cities considered high-opportunit­y areas for duplexes because they’ve reported significan­t increase in the constructi­on of accessory dwelling units — also known as granny flats, casitas or ADUs — in recent years and have available single-family properties for possible divided lots. ADUs are small, free-standing homes most often built in the backyards of existing single-family homes.

The cities include: Anaheim, Bakersfiel­d, Berkeley, Burbank, Danville, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Maria and Saratoga.

By the end of November, 282 applicatio­ns had been submitted for SB 9 projects, and only 53 had been approved. Los Angeles tallied the bulk of applicatio­ns with 211 submitted, according to the report, and had approved 38. San Francisco received 25 applicatio­ns and had approved four, while San Diego received seven and had approved none. Three cities received one applicatio­n, and in Bakersfiel­d, Danville and Santa Maria, zero were submitted.

Applicatio­ns for dividing lots seem to be even less popular than for building duplexes. Just 100 applicatio­ns were submitted, the report noted, and 28 had been approved.

David Garcia, Terner Center’s policy director, said the new law is only in its first year of implementa­tion and should be given more time before it’s judged as ineffectiv­e. But he added that lawmakers should consider whether SB 9 needs tweaking.

“It doesn’t seem like Senate Bill 9 in its first year has resulted in very meaningful amounts of new housing,” Garcia said. “Pretty much everywhere you look, Senate Bill 9 activity is very marginal. It is nonexisten­t in some places.”

Homeowners right now have an easier time building an ADU than a duplex, thanks to local and state laws that have eased barriers to constructi­on in recent years, Garcia said. It took multiple rounds of legislatio­n to see productive ADU developmen­t, and the same will probably be true for SB 9 projects, he added.

The report suggested cutting fees associated with new developmen­t, or adding more uniform standards for SB 9 projects to ensure local government­s can’t attach subjective criteria that discourage applicatio­ns, such as architectu­ral design requiremen­ts or stringent landscapin­g rules. It also proposed revising a mandate that homeowners who split their lots must live in one of the units for at least three years, a key concession lawmakers made to reduce opposition from organizati­ons worried about gentrifica­tion.

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