CA Housing Legislation Approved!
Funding & objective standards support affordable housing production

The California legislature has just passed and Governor Brown has signed fifteen bills to promote housing and address homelessness. Of these, Senate Bill 35 will have the greatest impact on Marin County.


California counties, cities and towns are required to include and regularly update a housing element within their general plans. The housing element must include policies that promote the production of housing to meet the localities’ fair share of the region’s housing needs, as established by, in Marin’s case, the Association of Bay Area Governments.  So, as required from time to time, ABAG establishes a Regional Housing Needs Allocation – RHNA – which sets housing production goals by price categories for each jurisdiction within the region.

Until now, while the goals have been allocated, there has been no means to require local governments to meet them.SB 35 will require communities that are falling behind on housing production to expedite projects that meet zoning requirements.Certain multi-family projects that are consistent with local zoning would be “streamlined.” This means local agencies will be required to approve projects within 90 days as long as they are consistent with zoning on the property and meet “objective design standards.” SB 35 does not change local zoning. 

Important details:

  • Only specific multifamily development can be streamlined,and only in income categories that the locality IS NOT on track to meet
  • Long term affordability is required for at least 55 years
  • “Objective design standards” means standards that can be measured, such as height limits and required setbacks. Subjective standards, such as “neighborhood character” can’t be used to evaluate applications that are otherwise eligible for SB 35 streamlining.
  • No parking can be required if the project is located within ½ mile of public transit. Otherwise, no more than one parking space can be required per unit.
  • California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption for qualifying proposals.
  • Fair wages/union-level wages must be paid to construction crews.

What will SB 35 mean for Marin?

We think it will tip the balance toward nonprofit affordable housing developers. Affordable housing developers are already required to pay prevailing wage rates, and don’t price their projects to make a profit. For-profit builders maintain that prevailing wage rates make their projects too expensive. We think because of these realities non-profit developers are more likely to take advantage of the opportunity to streamline project approvals than their for-profit counterparts.

SB 35 marks a new day for getting affordable housing approved and built in California, with, we hope, a more fair and appropriate division of responsibility within California communities to produce their share of affordable housing, as well as incentives for getting it done.

To dig deeper into the legislation, try these links and visit our website.