Honey, I’m Back! Densified Kiss-And-Ride California Transit Nodes Return From The Dead

Black and white image of California State Capitol in Sacratmento
2015-02-07 capitol day photo by Robert Couse-Baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0
California state legislature in Sacramento, where a bill has again introduced to increase housing density near transit hubs.

The idea of allowing high density zoning near California transit hubs gained steam earlier in 2018, when Bill SB 827 was introduced in the Sacramento Legislature. Beyond measures to increase density, the bill suggested other attractive features, such as reducing automobile emissions by linking housing to employment hubs served by public transit.

The bill was presented in the press and to hopeful activists as a possible new era of affordable housing for California.

However, Bill SB 827 offered absolutely no guarantees that affordable housing would prevail in transit corridors. With new housing made possible by increased density, market rate developers were (and still are) also eyeing the benefits of transit links to employment hubs. For folks with deeper pockets, developers remain prepared develop far more costly market rate housing with close-to-transit advantages.

Bill SB 827 was opposed by an unusual coalition. There were NIMBYites who were perfectly happy with their lower density neighbourhoods. Joining them were housing activists worried that cash-rich market rate developers would reap the higher density spoils, leaving affordable housing out in the cold.

In the end, opponents triumphed and Bill SB 827 was DOA in the Legislature.

For more on that story, try: Major California Housing Bill Dies In First Committee Hearing

Post election, Bill SB 50 has resurrected the dream of having higher density housing near transit hubs. It proposes that neighbourhoods located next to transportation corridors be prohibited from blocking high density housing. Bill SB 50 adds a new wrinkle, adding similar prohibitions to residential areas near “job-rich” areas.

The bill also appears to tap the brakes on the gentrification of some ‘sensitive areas’ where low cost housing remains. A waiting period before allowing higher density to impact these areas would give residents, it would seem, up to five years to pack their meagre belongings and move out of the way of ‘progress.’

Will Bill SB 50 ease the concerns of the NIMBYites? Hardly likely. They were against density increases before. They still will be.

As for affordable housing, the only bone that the new legislation throws towards this objective is protection for existing rental accommodation. Needless to say, preservation of existing stock does little to ease California’s need for enormous quantities of less expensive housing.

Otherwise, the bill doesn’t seem destined to add housing that people with low incomes can afford. It merely proposes that neighbourhoods near transit corridors and ‘job rich’ regions be prevented from legislating against higher density.

Already there is over-the-top enthusiasm from housing industry-linked pundits (sample from the National Real Estate Investor: This Could Be the Housing Revolution California Needs). Of course, the housing industry would far prefer to do what they always prefer to do these days — build high density luxury apartments, not affordable ones.

Any possible improvement to California’s dire housing affordability problems would seem to be encompassed by the beliefs of a growing YIMBY (Yes in My Back Yard) philosophy:  ‘build anything, even luxury housing — it’s all good.’

This ‘one of these days it might trickle down to poor folks’ philosophy just happens to neatly align with what the housing industry has been doing all along. It would seem to mute the YIMBY battle cry to: Carry On As Usual.1.

For a sober analysis of a bill that in our opinion seems at best inadequate in its approach to California’s affordable housing crisis, read more in Vox: Gavin Newsom promised to fix California’s housing crisis. Here’s a bill that would do it.

Footnotes

  1. For our own (deeply suspicious) take on this YIMBY philosophy, try Trendy YIMBY Affordable Housing Activists Are Sheltered In A House Of Straw