Here’s What You Need To Know About Controversial Housing Bill SB 50 (Updated)

The so-called ”MORE Homes Act” has been postponed, but will be eligible again in 2020

UPDATE: State Senate Appropriations Chair Anthony Portantino announced Thursday morning that SB 50 was being held for the year, but will be eligible again in 2020. State senator Scott Wiener, who introduced the legislation says he’s “deeply disappointed” in the committee’s decision to postpone the bill.

Low-slung, single-family neighborhoods have long dominated the landscape of L.A., but that could change under SB 50, a controversial zoning bill proposed by state senator Scott Wiener late last year. A revival of his “transit-rich housing” bill SB 827 (which was killed in its first committee hearing amid opposition from both NIMBYs and tenants’ rights groups), the “MORE Homes Act” aims to address the state’s housing crisis by making cities and counties throughout the state a whole lot denser. Here’s a breakdown of who supports it, who’s against it, and how it could change the way L.A. looks forever.

What would the bill do?

Essentially, the measure would “upzone” much of the land currently dedicated to single-family housing, allowing for developers to build duplexes, triplexes, or fourplexes if they would like to. In larger counties, lots that are considered “job-rich” or “transit-rich” would be upzoned even further, allowing for taller buildings and/or more homes.

How could it impact Los Angeles?

A planning department report released last month estimates that approximately 43 percent of the developable land in the city could be affected by SB 50, and that its largest impacts would be seen in low-density areas within a half-mile of a rail station. While there are protections that prevent rental properties from being affected by the bill, the department says it expects to see an increase in demolitions of owner-occupied single-family homes.

The areas most likely to be impacted include several areas of the San Fernando Valley, Westwood, and Bel Air. Gentrification-prone areas designated as “sensitive communities” (which make up 15 percent of L.A.’s eligible parcels) would be excluded from the new regulations for five years. However, the report expresses concerns about low-income areas like South L.A., which could have local planning efforts overridden by the bill. 

Would any of this new housing be affordable?

Not very much of it. While local affordability regulations would still need to be observed, the bill itself only requires projects with 11 or more units to provide affordable housing. Developers can also choose to pay an “in-lieu fee” to the local government instead.

Who supports the bill?

The bill is sponsored by California YIMBY, a pro-development group funded in large part by Bay Area tech executives. Co-sponsors include the California Association of Realtors and Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH). A handful of environmental, housing, and business groups have also extended support.

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board also endorsed the measure earlier this month, stating that “a dramatic, but ultimately necessary transition toward greater density in California” would help to cut down on carbon emissions while easing the housing crisis. However, they suggested that the bill’s new rules should be prevented from kicking in for another two years, in order to allow communities to enact their own, neighborhood-specific policies first. They also argued that mandatory affordable housing near transit should be included.

Who’s against it?

Like SB 827, the bill has made unlikely bedfellows of “Not In My Backyard” NIMBYs, who oppose all development, and tenants’ rights groups, who fear its lack of affordable housing regulations will only worsen the housing crisis. Groups like the Los Angeles Tenants Union and Housing is a Human Right strongly reject the “supply-and-demand” theory of housing that the bill is founded on, arguing that that market-rate development has historically only benefited developers, and will ultimately increase land values, resulting in gentrification and displacement.

The Los Angeles City Council seems to be in agreement—on April 16, all 12 council members voted to adopt a resolution opposing the bill. Councilmember Paul Koretz called it a “handout for developers,” and Councilmember Mike Bonin worried that it would displace the low-income, mainly Latino constituents in areas like Marina Del Rey. “It doesn’t do enough to stop displacement,” said Bonin, according to Curbed. “It has to do a hell of a lot, a hell of a lot more, to get us a lot more affordable housing, and have real significant protections in there to protect what exists now.”

RELATED: You’ve Heard of NIMBYs—but Who Are the PHIMBYs?

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