Housing crisis

Commentary: Is zoning promising enough to ease California’s housing crisis?

By David M. Greenwald
Chief Editor

Over the past few weeks, I have seen a number of people argue that we should focus on infill housing rather than outlying housing to solve our housing needs. The problem with this locally is the lack of vacant fill space and densification fees.

It’s also worth noting that when the state legislature proposed ways to improve the area – primarily via SB 9 and SB 10 – many of the same critics objected as a burden on existing residents as well than a usurpation of local control over land use.

As the League of California Cities warned, “SB 9 would allow developers to build up to four housing units on a single lot in residential neighborhoods traditionally zoned for single-family homes. While high-density housing is part of the solution, SB 9 is going about it in the worst possible way. It is a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to land use policy that does not recognize or integrate local flexibility, decision-making and community input.

Studies by entities such as UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation found that SB 9 would not have a huge impact on housing.

David Garcia, director of policy last August in the Bee wrote, “Recent analysis from UC Berkeley found that SB 9 could play a role in the state’s overall housing solution, but financial and geographic will limit its impact to only a small percentage of the state’s single-family homes.

While the bill “has drawn fierce opposition in recent months, he claims, “research has shown, however, that the changes proposed in SB 9 would not lead to the sweeping changes that opponents fear.” .

So what can work? California Yimby notes a new study “by Greenaway-McGrevy & Phillips (2022), (where) researchers find strong evidence that zoning has led directly to increased housing construction, contrary to fears that zoning will only ‘increase land prices without further encouraging supply’.

Among the key findings is “strong evidence that zoning has spurred construction.” In the five years since the zoning of Auckland, New Zealand, which began in 2016, an estimated 26,903 new homes have been licensed as a direct result.

Basically, in 2016 New Zealand faced a growing housing crisis and Auckland, its biggest city, “ended most of its bans on multi-family housing with the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP)” which “removed restrictions on individual dwellings on three-quarters of residential land and (tripled) the number of dwellings that could be built in residential areas.

Greenaway-McGrevy and Phillips conclude that Auckland’s zoning has led to the construction of over 26,000 new homes, or “about 5.07% of the Auckland region’s housing stock”.

Can it work in California? And Davis?

In the past 20+ years, the City of Davis has only allowed two outlying housing projects, although you could probably consider only one for Cannery, even if it wasn’t a mandatory vote for the J measure.

Can the city rely on infill to meet its current housing needs? This is a huge question and, for the most part, zoning is not likely to improve the housing situation in Davis.

Council has been able to approve a number of multi-family and student housing projects since 2015. One hurdle has been opposition from neighbours. On the ground, for example, there was a relatively small number of units, but it was delayed and stalled by litigation.

Community opposition by close neighbors led to changes with University Commons, which also stalled, if not halted, progress on the redevelopment of the University Mall.

Obviously, streamlining approvals for such projects would help facilitate the development of multi-family housing.

But this is not the only obstacle.

Take the downtown map. This has been slowed down by COVID and other considerations. The city is clearly counting on redevelopment and mixed-use housing for the downtown core, which would be permitted under the new plan without zoning changes.

But the cost of redevelopment. The cost of construction. The cost of densification are all factors.

The city relies heavily on downtown affordable housing to meet its RHNA requirements, but studies and analysis question the viability of vertical mixed-use affordable housing. These same analyzes question whether such a development is even financially viable.

That seems to be a big part of the problem. Yes, the approval process is long and uncertain. Yes, streamlining this process would make filling and densification easier. But, even removing these hurdles, the costs of redevelopment and infilling are very high and could make it difficult for places like Davis to rely solely on infilling and zoning without some sort of funding mechanism, especially when it is affordable housing, both subsidized and unsubsidized. -lodging.