On Friday, a bill that would block zoning restrictions on land owned by churches and hospitals to build housing units was brought back to the Senate again following amendment changes.
Senate Bill 899, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would go around local zoning laws to ensure that affordable housing can be built on land owned by places of worship and hospitals. Density and height restrictions would vary according to how close to a road the units are and whether there is mixed-use or commercial zoning involved as well. Affordable housing would range from a minimum of 40 units with a cap of three stories to 150 units with a maximum height of 5 stories.
In addition, all units must remain affordable for a certain amount of time. Rental units must remain affordable for 55 years while buyable properties need to remain affordable for 45 years.
Senator Wiener and supporters such as Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) renewed the push for more affordable housing and zoning easement following the failure of SB 50. Besides there being a critical affordable housing need in California, Wiener noted that many churches and hospitals have a lot of excess land and that rezoning can be lengthy, expensive, and sometimes impossible. SB 899 acts as a hyperfocused SB 50, focusing on places where it would be easier to build and making it more palatable for opponents.
“California desperately needs housing of all kinds, including affordable housing for our low income residents,” said Senator Wiener in a statement. “Churches and other religious and charitable institutions often have land to spare, and they should be able to use that land to build affordable housing and thus further their mission. SB 899 ensures that affordable housing can be built and removes local zoning and approval obstacles in order to do so.”
Some local leaders reacted positively.
“Senator Wiener’s legislation is a creative approach to addressing the housing shortage in San Francisco and across California,” stated San Francisco Mayor London Breed. “Our housing shortage is the result of decades of underbuilding and restrictive zoning, and as a result, the cost of housing in San Francisco is unaffordable for many of our residents. We need solutions to eliminate the red tape that gets in the way of creating more affordable homes in our city.”
While no formal opposition has been formed yet, many lawmakers have already expressed doubts about SB 899.
“They see it for what it is,” explained Dana, who works at the State Capitol. “After it was introduced Friday, we heard several Senators say how it was just another SB 50, but pared down. They also said that they may try and get it passed piece by piece, or build subsequent bills up to include more and more once they have tolerance for a smaller one. We’re going to be hearing from cities and individual residents like we did with SB 50 again. We know it already. That’s how much a majority of people in the state don’t like bills or laws like this.”
SB 899 has been referred to Senate committees and is expected be heard in the coming weeks.
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