As Gov. Jerry Brown and California’s legislative leaders left for their summer break, they said the top priority when they returned would be addressing California’s housing affordability crisis. They’ll consider a bevy of bills, with an emphasis on providing funds for housing development. More funding will help, but it can’t solve the crisis. To effectively alleviate the housing shortage, the state must also ensure that local governments responsibly use their power to regulate land use.
Throughout the U.S., municipalities adopt zoning ordinances to govern development and land use. In California, local zoning must — in principle — accommodate housing affordable to lower-income households. Building apartments, rather than single-family homes, is the most efficient way to accomplish this goal. But even when local zoning allows for high-density development, lengthy local review processes and political opposition frequently stymie such projects in California.
Massachusetts, facing a similar situation, passed a law that provides a promising model for California. It shifts some power over land use away from local governments that aren’t meeting state affordable housing goals. Although the law is controversial, it has proved politically resilient, and Massachusetts voters soundly rejected a 2010 ballot measure to abolish it.
The comprehensive permit expedites the local review process, and it enables developers to propose projects at higher densities than otherwise permitted.