California Housing Construction

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Following years of stymied attempts, pro-housing forces won a years-long fight in the California Legislature to allow more density on single-family lots.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law more than 30 bills attempting to quell the state’s affordable housing crisis, including Senate Bill 9, which allows duplexes and as many as four units on most parcels that previously allowed a single home.

So now what?

One key player is the Housing Accountability Unit, a new team at the state Housing and Community Development Agency created in this year’s budget to enforce the housing laws already on the books.

The 25-person team with a budget of more than $4 million is expected to help cities meet their housing goals — and crack down on those who fail to do so. They will also be enforcing a slew of other California housing laws, including the Housing Accountability Act, Surplus Lands Act and Density Bonus Law.

The Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon and CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias break down the unit’s main enforcement priority — the Regional Housing Needs Assessment. Through it, cities are required to plan and zone for their residents’ housing needs over the next eight years. But as Liam explains, the lengthy bureaucratic process is riddled with problems, with cities frequently ignoring the rules with little or no penalty.

A recent report from UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, for example, found nearly 70% of the new housing production in the Bay Area over the last eight-year cycle didn’t occur on property designated in cities’ housing plans.

A series of recent laws have given more teeth to the process, which say that targeted areas need to feasibly allow housing, and that housing needs to be built in all neighborhoods, including wealthier ones.

To discuss these recent changes is guest Victoria Fierce, an Oakland-based activist and early organizer of the Yes In My Backyard (or YIMBY) movement who has recently secured a couple of pro-housing wins in the courts.

Most recently, California Renters Legal Advocacy won a lawsuit against the city of San Mateo, which had rejected a permit for a building that was compliant with its own existing rules and general plan.

“Judges are used to giving cities deference on (housing), and we’re flipping that on its head, because the reality is, we’re no longer 500 some isolated little villages around the state of California, where one thing happens in one city and it doesn’t affect the other,” Fierce said.

Fierce and other YIMBYs have faced some withering criticism, as supporting gentrification of minority communities. But Fierce said they aren’t all rich and aren’t targeting struggling communities such as West Oakland, but rather wealthier cities that want to block housing “at all costs” — Huntington Beach, Sausalito, Sonoma and others.

“Those are the real enemies.”

This article was originally published by CalMatters.