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Newly Adopted California Housing Laws - Senate Bill 330 Housing Crisis Act

November 11, 2019 Articles

Ahead of the January 1, 2020 effective date for several housing-related bills recently signed into law by the Governor, we will explain upcoming changes in housing law through a series of updates. Our first update (linked here) provided information regarding tenant protections (Assembly Bill 1482). Our second update focuses on changes to the permitting and approval process for housing developments.

Housing Crisis Act (Senate Bill 330)

The Housing Crisis Act (SB 330), sponsored by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), seeks to eliminate some of the most common entitlement impediments to the creation of new housing, including delays in the local permitting process and cities enacting new requirements after an application is complete and undergoing local review—both of which can exacerbate the cost and uncertainty that sponsors of housing projects face. While this new law should prove helpful for developers, it is only temporary in nature as the bill’s provisions expire on January 1, 2025. The new law will:

  1. Require that local governments complete their review and approval processes for housing development within certain time periods.
  2. Restrict local agencies from applying new standards, policies, and laws to a development after a project sponsor submits a complete preliminary application.
  3. Restrict local governments from enacting policies, standards or conditions, such as housing moratoria, that would limit housing development.

Application Processes and Timelines

Under SB 330, cities and counties will be prohibited from conducting more than five hearings in connection with a housing project approval if the project complies with the applicable objective general plan and zoning standards in effect at the time an application is deemed complete.

The new law also reduces the amount of time that a local government has to approve or disapprove an application under the Permit Streamlining Act from 120 to 90 days for a housing project that requires California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, and from 90 to 60 days if a housing project is proposing at least 49% affordable units.

Additionally, local agencies will be prohibited from disapproving housing development projects for very low, low-, or moderate-income households unless they make certain written findings. The same will apply if a local agency either disapproves a project or imposes a condition of approval that lowers the density for a project that complies with the applicable objective general plan, zoning, and subdivision standards in effect at the time that the application was deemed complete.

If a proposed housing project is not consistent with or in compliance with local standards, local agencies must provide the applicants with written documentation identifying and explaining why the proposed project is not in compliance within specified timeframes. The bill also clarifies that a project’s use of the State Density Bonus Law shall not constitute a valid basis on which to find that a proposed housing project is inconsistent, not in compliance, or not in conformity with objective standards.

Prohibition on New Standards

Once a project sponsor submits a preliminary application containing all of the required information, a local agency will be prohibited from applying new ordinances, policies, and standards to a proposed project, subject to certain exceptions.

Additionally, SB 330 allows a project applicant, a person who would be eligible to apply for residency in the proposed project, or a housing organization to file a lawsuit if a local agency requires a housing project to comply with a new ordinance, policy, or standard that was not adopted and in effect when a preliminary application was submitted.

Restrictions on Local Government

With respect to land where housing is an allowable use, cities and counties will be prohibited from enacting changes that would have the following effects:

  • Reduce the intensity of land use to levels below what was permitted by the city or county as of January 1, 2018 by changing the general plan land use designation, specific plan land use designation, or zoning of a parcel.
  • Impose a moratorium or similar restriction or limitation on housing development, unless the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) approves it.
  • Impose or enforce new design review standards established after January 1, 2020, if the standards are not objective.
  • Cap the number of housing units that can be approved or constructed either annually or for some other period of time (unless the limit was approved by voters prior to January 1, 2005 and the city or county is located in a predominantly agricultural county).
  • Limit the population of the city or county.

While the above restrictions on local government will be beneficial to new housing development, SB 330 places additional requirements on projects that involve the demolition of existing residential units. SB 330 requires that cities and counties may only approve housing developments that include the demolition of residential units if the project will create at least as many residential dwelling units as will be demolished.

For projects involving the demolition of protected units, cities and counties may only give their approval if the projects meet the following criteria:

  1. The project will replace all existing or demolished protected units (which would count towards meeting inclusionary housing requirements).
  2. The project will include at least as many residential dwelling units as the greatest number of residential dwelling units that existed on the project site within the last five years.
  3. Existing residents, if any, are allowed to occupy their units until six months before the start of construction.
  4. The developer agrees to provide to the affordable housing rental unit occupants relocation benefits and a right of first refusal for units available in the new housing development at an affordable rent for the household.

For more information on SB 330, click here. Stay tuned, as we will next cover Assembly Bill 1485, which also aims to streamline housing development.

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