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Single-Family Zoning in California Slowly Fading

California lawmakers have successfully passed pieces of legislation over the past four years that have chipped away at single-family zoning, making it easier for homeowners to convert garages into residential space and build freestanding homes. 

A report by the Los Angeles Times says that California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed multiple bills into law this week that allowing property owners to build a backyard home of at least 800-square-feet. The bill would also allow homeowners to convert a garage, office, or space room into living quarters. New legislation would allow for three homes on land previously zoned for single-family. 

“We’re on the precipice of single-family zoning functionally not existing,” said Ben Metcalf, former Director of the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

U.S. Census Data found that nearly two-thirds of California residences are single-family homes, according to the Los Angeles Times. University of California-Berkeley's Terner Center for Housing Innovation revealed that between half and three-quarters of the developable land in most of the state is zoned for single-family housing. 

Following January 1, cities and counties can only prohibit accessory-dwelling units for health and safety reasons, including on properties at high risk of wildfires. 

“During the Depression when we had a massive housing crisis, people converted their rooms in their houses and put in hot plates so others could live there,” said Denise Pinkston, an executive at Bay Area development firm TMG Partners, and one of the forces behind the new laws. “They adapted their housing stock to serve the needs of the population. During this housing crisis we need to do the same thing.”

California has become one of many states—joining Oregon, Minnesota, and North Carolina—that have taken steps to remove single-family zoning. 

Durham, North Carolina, in September amended ordinances for higher density, “undoing decades-old vestigaes” of discrimination that have prevented 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. 

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. 

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) clarifies the legislation, saying that the policy does not “outright prohibit” single-family zoning or development in Oregon. 

“In fact, the bill should give builders and developers more flexibility and opportunities to build an expanded range of housing types in the state,” the NAHB said. 

CoreLogic, also reports that home sales in California fell to four-year lows in August—the twelfth time in 13 months where sales were lower than the prior year. 

The report states an estimated 42,440 new and existing houses and condos were sold in August, which is down 0.2% from July and a 2.8% drop from August 2018.

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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