The Volokh Conspiracy

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Property Rights

YIMBY Progress In California

The state legislature recently passed significant new laws constraining exclusionary zoning, thereby making it easier for property owners to build much-needed new housing on their land.


The state of California recently enacted a number of new laws constraining exclusionary zoning, thereby making it easier for property owners to build new housing on their land. The LA Times summarizes them:

California lawmakers approved legislation on Monday to expand a housing law that has led to the construction of thousands of new homes, despite initial opposition from labor unions and environmental groups.

Senate Bill 423 would extend by a decade a state housing law set to expire in 2026 that lets developers skip much of the bureaucratic process often blamed for blocking construction of multifamily projects, though only in cities that have fallen behind on state-mandated housing goals. The legislation now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has until Oct. 14 to sign or veto hundreds of bills….

A recent UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation report found that the 2017 law has helped lead to more than 18,000 proposed new units in California, nearly two-thirds of which are considered 100% affordable. It's a small dent in a state that must plan for 2.5 million new homes over the next eight years, with at least 1 million set aside for low- to very low-income households

The Senate easily approved another major housing proposal on Monday, also by Wiener, that would allow nonprofit colleges and faith organizations such as mosques, synagogues and churches to quickly build affordable housing on their properties. That measure, Senate Bill 4, is expected to free up some 171,000 acres of land for development of affordable housing projects, according to another report from the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation.

"Enacting SB 4 and 423 will add powerful tools to our arsenal in combating the housing crisis," Wiener said in a statement after the votes. "Californians overwhelmingly want to see these homes built, which is why both bills passed by a wide margin with bipartisan support."

As the article notes, to get SB 423 passed, Sen. Wiener had to agree to increased labor regulations on projects authorized by the law. That, unfortunately, may reduce the amount of construction that occurs, and make it more expensive. Still, the two bills are notable steps in the right direction. Wiener deserves great credit for his longstanding and ongoing efforts to promote YIMBY ("Yes in My Backyard") zoning reform in America's most populous state.

California has some of the most severe zoning restrictions in the nation. Its size and economic importance make reform their especially important. In addition, policies enacted there often have an example effect on other states, particularly liberal "blue" jurisdictions.

At the risk of annoying regular readers who may be tired of me emphasizing it, exclusionary zoning is the most important property rights issue of our time. It stifles economic growth, and  is a major obstacle to opportunity for the poor and disadvantaged. Liberals, conservatives and libertarians all have compelling reasons to oppose it, and push for reform.

These new California laws reinforce recent successes in several other states. Hopefully, the positive trends will continue, though there have also been some setbacks.