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The End of Single-Family Zoning in California?

Recent legislative actions by lawmakers in California, specifically statewide rent control and the failure of a bill allowing more construction near transit and job centers, have put the status of single-family zoning in the state in question, according to a commentary from Reason.

The final days of the 2019 legislative session saw lawmakers pass a series of bills loosening zoning rules governing accessory dwelling units (ADU). These reforms, which were built on legislation passed in 2016, put additional limits on the power of local governments to regulate ADUs, allowing homeowners to convert their garage or tool shed into rental housing. 

"The big news is that we have effectively ended single-family zoning in California," said Matthew Lewis, Director of Communications for California YIMBY, an advocacy group that sponsored two of the three ADU bills.

The first bill, AB 68, allows homeowners to build ADUs on their property by right. Local governments don’t have the power to deny these project or impose additional conditions other than what’s in the city’s zoning code. Additionally, the bill restricts the size, setback, and parking requirements local zoning codes can enforce on ADUs. It also reduces the time local governments have to approve new units to 60 days from 120 days. 

Two separate bills—AB 881 and SB 13—prohibit local governments from requiring that an owner occupy new units and reduce the fees homeowners can be charged to build them. California YIMPY sponsored AB 881. 

Legislation passed in 2016 allowed homeowners to build one ADU by right and limited the types of impact and utility fees they could be charged for constructing them. Reason reports ADU-permit applications in Los Angeles, California, increased from 257 in 2016 to 3,818 in 2017. Twenty-percent of the permits granted for new housing units in Los Angeles were for ADUs, according to a report from the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based policy think tank. 

California is now one of several other markets that are making a move away from single-family housing. A report last month detailed Durham, North Carolina’s, efforts to stray from single-family housing, as it amended ordinances to allow for higher density, “undoing decades-old vestiges” of discrimination, preventing African-Americans from owning homes. 

The ordinance, known as “Expanding Housing Choices,” amends zoning rules in areas near downtown to allow for higher density. City and county planners believe this could stabilize home prices as the market grows. 

The National Association of Home Builders revealed last month that traditional housing zoning has been seen as a barrier to affordability, and using policy to promote diversity in housing stock could accommodate a diverse population with varying incomes and needs. 

“A fresh round of research continues to point to strict zoning ordinances as impeding supply and affordability in the United States,” the NAHB study states. “Innovative policy shifts that increase the flexibility in land use and the tools available to construct varied housing should be good news for builders, developers, renters and home buyers.”

Oregon’s HB 2001 went into effect on August 8, and mandates that cities with a population of more than or equal to 25,000 to allow middle-housing types on lots previously earmarked for the development of detached single-family housing. 

About Author: Mike Albanese

A graduate of the University of Alabama, Mike Albanese has worked for news publications since 2011 in Texas and Colorado. He has built a portfolio of more than 1,000 articles, covering city government, police and crime, business, sports, and is experienced in crafting engaging features and enterprise pieces. He spent time as the sports editor for the "Pilot Point Post-Signal," and has covered the DFW Metroplex for several years. He has also assisted with sports coverage and editing duties with the "Dallas Morning News" and "Denton Record-Chronicle" over the past several years.

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