Are Density Bonuses a Solution to the Housing Crisis?

eblast sb50 photo.PNG
eblast sb50 photo.PNG

As the housing crisis remains front and center in legislative talks at both the state and local level, the presence of density bonuses can be seen in housing bills AB1763, AB1279 and SB50.  These three bills could ultimately increase density bonuses, concessions and incentives, overall allowing for the easier development of housing and possibly enticing developers into creating more affordable housing.  Below we have provided a brief overview of how density bonuses play a role in each bill.

  • AB1763 (Chiu; Planning and zoning: density bonuses: affordable housing). This bill would require a developer be awarded additional density bonuses, incentives, concessions, and height increases if 100% of the units in the development are targeted to lower income households.  Specifically, the development would now receive 4 incentives and concessions from what used to be only 3, a density bonus that is now 80% of the number of units for lower income households of which it used to be only 35%, and height and floor area increases and elimination of maximum density for those developments within ½ mile of a major “transit stop” or “high quality transit corridor”. 

  • AB1279 (Bloom; Planning and zoning: housing development: high-resource areas). This bill would require the Housing and Community Development Department to identify, with the feedback of stakeholders, areas that are considered low inclusion areas and label them as “high resource” areas.   Development projects occurring in this “high-resource” areas would then be deemed a “use by right” making them eligible to receive increased density bonuses.  Zoning changes would also allow for the development of multi-family homes in previously single-family zoning areas and would offer density bonuses to developers who include additional affordable units in residential use projects located in prime development locations.

    Density bonuses along with other incentives or concessions would also be granted for development projects in which some of the units offered were at an affordable housing cost, or affordable rent accessible to lower income and very low-income households based on the area median income.  This bill would also render the “use by right” development projects exempt from required CEQA approval.

  • SB50 (Wiener; Planning and Zoning: housing development incentives).  This bill will require local governments to grant “equitable communities incentives,” which reduce local zoning standards in jobs-rich and transit rich areas, if the development meets certain requirements including the residential development is either a jobs-rich housing project or transit rich housing project, located on a site that is zoned to allow “housing as an underlying use” in the zone, complies with all applicable labor, construction, employment, and wage standards as well as complies with all architectural design, demolition, impact fee, and community benefit standards, requirements, and/or prohibitions imposed by the local government, and remains affordable for 55 years for rental units and 45 years for units offered for sale, or abides by local inclusionary ordinances.

    Depending on whether a development is jobs rich or transit rich, the “equitable communities incentives” offered could include density waivers from maximum controls on density, minimum parking requirements greater than .5 parking spaces per unit, maximum height requirements less than 55 feet, maximum floor area ratio requirements less than 3.25, and up to three incentives and concessions under density bonus law. 

While SB50, AB1279 and AB1763 all aim to address the undeniable housing crisis through the use of density bonuses, some cities and counties may be wondering at what cost.  These bills are still moving through the legislative process.  If you’d like more information or to provide feedback to the legislature, please contact RSG Principal, Tara Matthews ([email protected]).