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Sen. Scott Wiener Reintroduces 'Gentle Density' Housing Bill

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

  • State Sen. Scott Wiener reintroduced SB10, a bill that would permit cities to build up to 10 units of housing on a single lot

  • The bill allows cities to opt-in to the new rule, and could help unlock more housing in San Francisco neighborhoods otherwise zoned for single-family use

  • Wiener's reintroduction of SB10 follows fresh scrutiny of California's housing crisis, with a state auditor recently lambasting the lack of a statewide strategy amid rising unaffordability and homelessness in the state

State Sen. Scott Wiener is reintroducing Senate Bill 10, a bill that would make it easier for cities to build higher-density housing in areas close to job centers or transit.

The bill, which died in its first run through the California Senate and Assembly last year, would allow cities to rezone residential parcels for projects of up to 10 units. It works on an opt-in basis, giving cities flexibility in where and how to apply the option and alleviating the state's severe housing crisis, said Wiener.

"SB 10 will help move California away from a sprawl-based housing policy and toward a more sustainable, equitable, and effective housing policy,” he said.

Wiener's office said the bill has a good chance of success this time, noting that SB10 didn't receive much serious critique the last time around and simply withered in the State Assembly's appropriations committee.

For San Francisco, the bill could unlock new avenues for housing production in areas otherwise limited by exclusionary zoning, should the San Francisco Board of Supervisors opt in.

San Francisco built an average of 2,561 units of housing per year between 2010 and 2018, an effort that fell well short of demand in a period when job growth exploded. The San Francisco metro area added 6 jobs for every 1 housing permit between 2012 and 2016, according to data from the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics, and median rents soared roughly 40% over the same period.

"What this would mean is that we can actually build up to 10 units of housing per lot, and it would help address the missing middle-income housing in San Francisco," said Todd David, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition. "San Francisco is increasingly a city that only builds housing for the wealthy or the lowest income, and that's a choice we’ve made over a series of policies we’ve put into place over the last 40 years. This is a bill that would help address this specific issue."

Statewide, in areas that are zoned for single-family housing, it is currently not permitted to build more than one unit of housing. Around 37% of San Francisco's land is zoned for single-family use.

Wiener's renewed effort in passing a statewide housing bill follows fresh scrutiny of California's housing crisis.

In a damning report released last month, California's state auditor, Elaine Howle, found that the state "does not currently have a sound, well‑coordinated strategy or plan for how to most effectively use its financial resources to support affordable housing.”

The negligence has resulted in billions in wasted funds, in addition to a worsening homelessness and affordability crisis, Howle wrote.

California's Debt Limit Committee, one of four agencies in charge of the statewide housing efforts, let $2.7 billion in bonds -- which could have financed thousands of affordable housing units and unlocked $1 billion in tax credits -- simply expire between 2015 and 2017.

“California's ongoing affordable housing shortage has contributed to the homelessness crisis and has left more than three million renter households with burdensome housing costs,” the audit concluded. “This shortage in part stems from the State's ineffective approach to planning and financing development of affordable housing at both the state and local levels.”


Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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