California’s More HOMES Act: Housing, but a Whole Lot More
Senate Bill 50 shows how smart public policy can draw support well beyond the housing sector
When strange bedfellows line up in support of a piece of legislation, it can often be a sign of sound public policy. Such is the case for California’s More HOMES Act, or Senate Bill 50.
California needs to build nearly 665,000 new apartment homes by 2030 to fix its housing crisis — that’s more than 47,000 new apartments each year. The More HOMES (Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity and Stability) Act could help achieve that, and a whole lot more.
The AARP, the Chamber of Commerce, environmentalists, labor unions and members of the tech industry all back this bill
At its essence, the bill would pave the way for much-needed housing across the Golden State by creating statewide standards to encourage the construction of higher-density housing near transit centers. In a state choked by traffic, and where renters pay 40 percent more than the national average amid a housing shortage that has been festering for years, a solution of this magnitude is long overdue.
Though the California Senate chose to table the bill until the 2020 legislative session, the broad support it has from a wide range of groups outside of the housing sector is telling. The AARP, the Chamber of Commerce, environmentalists, labor unions and members of the tech industry all back this bill — a clear indication that its “spillover” effects would reach well beyond the housing sector.
The fact is, this legislation would be good for Californians, communities across the state and the environment by opening the door to the type of development our nation needs. Indeed, the More HOMES Act and similar legislative actions across the U.S. would help communities reduce carbon emissions and address the growing demand for housing options among older Americans.
California is looking for every avenue toward a greener future, and SB 50 creates a sustainable path for development that has earned the support of a broad swath of environmental groups. California’s Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG), Environment California, Fossil Free California and the Natural Resources Defense Council all want to see this bill become law — for good reason. After all, long commutes mean more vehicle emissions, a significant driver behind climate change. Although California has been making good on its promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the transportation sector has been a laggard. Since 2013, transportation emissions have been rising, a trend expected to continue unless the state takes stronger actions.
Getting Californians out of their cars and into public transit could be a long-term game-changer, but to change this game, the state needs transit-friendly housing developments.
“SB 50 is designed to help ensure that California’s current and future housing needs are met in ways that address the soaring demand to live near public transportation and jobs, while assisting the state to achieve our climate goals,” said Amanda Eaken, director of the Transportation and Climate Program at Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement noting the group’s support of the bill.
Environmental groups value the cross-sector benefits envisioned in SB 50 because these bolster the state’s efforts to measurably change the habits and public policies that have created today’s housing and environmental challenges. A holistic solution — one that balances the needs of development with the essential changes to protect the environment — is the prudent path forward.
Finally, SB 50 is in tune with the needs of the moment in yet another perhaps surprising way: supporting baby boomers. While renting is often considered the purview of 20-somethings, adults between the ages of 55 and 73 are, in fact, the fastest-growing group of renters in the country. For this substantial demographic, ease of access is a top priority, and one not overlooked by the nation’s largest interest group that counts 38 million seniors as members.
“Given the focus of SB 50 around transit centers, it was of particular interest to us because we feel those are areas that older adults would like to live,” said Fred Buzo, associate state director for communities at AARP. “Older adults want more housing built so they can remain in their current cities and communities. They want options, and this bill would be able to provide that.”
Adopting statewide solutions to the housing crisis would also help to rebalance the power that lies with local governments. State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who has championed SB 50, says zoning — and the ability to upzone, or rezoning to allow denser development — needs to consider what’s best for the entire state, not just the interests of those within certain ZIP codes.
“As we build the millions of new homes we know we need, we need to ensure that we avoid endless and environmentally destructive sprawl,” Wiener said in support of SB 50. “We should focus new housing near jobs and transit.”
While the state waits for the bill to be reconsidered in January, the smart growth message within it is gaining ground elsewhere. Lawmakers from other states, including Washington and Oregon, are now working on legislation that would allow for denser housing around transit centers and stations.
With California’s need for more than half a million apartment homes, time is of the essence. 2020 is not too late for the state to embrace a smart solution to the housing crisis that would serve its people well and provide the nation with an enticing model of what could be.