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Affordable housing advocates argue California’s SB 9 won’t provide more affordable housing, but instead fuel gentrification by removing the ability of working-class residents and communities of color to build wealth through homeownership. Courtesy photo
Affordable housing advocates argue California’s SB 9 won’t provide more affordable housing, but instead fuel gentrification by removing the ability of working-class residents and communities of color to build wealth through homeownership. Courtesy photo
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Opponents say SB 9 will hit average homeowners hardest

REGION — Two housing bills, Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 10, are poised to become California law after passing the state Assembly and Senate.

But SB 9, the more controversial of the two bills, is raising concerns about its potential impact on average homeowners.

The legislation, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), would allow up to four units and a total of eight market-rate units on lots that are currently zoned for single-family housing.

Developers would not be required to pay for any infrastructure improvements to those lots.

If this bill passes, property owners could create a duplex or subdivide the property into two or more lots and build units on each lot for a total of four to six units.

The bill could potentially eliminate single-family residential zoning in most neighborhoods across the state.

Critics of the bill, like Livable California and United Neighbors, argue that many families don’t have the resources to develop their lots when construction costs can approach nearly $300 per square foot.

They say that this could potentially make way for major developers and real estate investment trusts like Blackrock, Invitation Homes and Invesco Real Estate to outbid California families trying to buy homes.

In response, Atkins recently amended the bill to require the owner to agree to live in one of the units for a minimum of three years after getting approval for a lot split, and prohibiting ministerial lot splits on adjacent parcels by the same individual.

“It strikes a balance between granting flexibility to homeowners and protecting local control, historic neighborhoods, and environmentally sensitive areas,” said Atkins in a statement last week.  “One of the critical aspects of SB 9 is that it would allow more families to build intergenerational wealth—a currency that is key to combating inequity and creating social mobility. The bill also protects existing renters by excluding properties where a tenant has resided in the past three years.”

However, opponents say the bill lacks enforcement of the three-year minimum residency requirement, as the amendment only requires a signed document of “intent.”

“Whenever someone puts the right to have more development potential on a piece of property, the value of that property does not go down; it goes up, it goes up and it goes way up,” said Keith Gurnee, of the Livable California board of directors. “The biggest impact is going to be on those people who would like to be a homeowner because they’ll be outbid by some of the real estate firms and by some of the Blackrocks of this world. This is creating a huge opportunity for real estate speculation in what have been traditional, established single-family neighborhoods.”

Gurnee adds that it is a gateway to gentrification as it could push Black and Latino families from their homes and neighborhoods to make way for developers that can finance these construction costs.

“Not one unit of affordable housing will be built as a result of these bills,” Gurnee said. “It’s all going to be going into gentrification of well-established neighborhoods, including people of color who live in established neighborhoods like Los Angeles.

“We have a number of Black and brown communities that are really erupting over these bills as destroying their American dream of having attained homeownership only to have it dashed by these bills.”

Skeptics have also speculated about how SB 9 could change neighborhoods and communities with overpopulation and loss of parking, open space and yards.

“There’s just a lot of second- and third-order effects that I’m not sure we have totally thought through, and we need to do that before we jump on it,” said Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara. “Some are wondering, could this housing change the neighborhood, and the potential exists that it could. There’s no denying that. I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing, but that’s the type of thing that needs to be considered.”

Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner and Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland have both sent letters to Gov. Gavin Newsom in opposition to the bill.

Matthew Lewis, director of communications for California Yes in My Back Yard (YIMBY), told The Coast News that they support these two bills because it’s a step in the right direction of addressing the housing shortage.

“Our overall policy agenda is to make it legal to build all of the different types of housing that Californians need in order to make it affordable. And by all the different types, I mean there’s many different kinds of homes,” Lewis said. “That includes things like duplexes and fourplexes, it includes small apartment buildings of up to 10 units like SB 10 would make. It also includes larger buildings that can start to integrate affordability requirements for lower-income tenants. We need a lot of all of the above because we’re so far behind in housing production based on population growth over the last three or four decades.”

When it comes to the bills’ lack of affordable housing requirements, Lewis said those city leaders who are actually concerned about affordable housing must first pursue it within their own cities.