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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

As prices of homes shoot up, Bay Area residents fear their adult children may not be able to buy homes in the Silicon Valley neighborhoods they have grown up in. A solution to the housing crisis could be splitting your single family home into apartments for multiple families.

“We have seen other cities, like London and Delhi, solve the problem of housing by splitting the family home among the children. My wife’s single family home in Delhi morphed into three apartments with each sibling occupying a floor. Surely in California, where land is scarce, this is a possible solution,” says Rajiv, father of two and a resident of the suburb of Cupertino.

Thursday September 16th, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed three housing-related bills into law opening up many single-family zones to just such a development. Senate Bills 9 and 10 which take effect Jan. 1, 2022, allow small multifamily buildings on single-family lots.

Senate Bill 9, technically allows as many as two duplexes, two houses with attached units, or a combination — capped at four units — on single-family lots across California, without local approval. 

The law requires cities to approve up to four housing units on what was a single-family lot. They would also have to approve splitting single-family lots so they could be sold separately.

Property owners seeking to split a lot would have to swear that they plan to have one of the housing units as their principal residence for at least three years. The provision that a property owner live in one of the units for three years after a lot split is designed to ease fears that the bill could prompt real estate speculators and corporations to buy up single-family homes in low-income communities, fueling gentrification and displacement. The new split lot can’t be less than 1,200 square feet. 

The law won’t apply in historic districts or in environmentally sensitive areas, like wetlands and certain high fire-risk areas. It won’t apply if a house has been occupied by a renter within the last three years, a provision intended to prevent tenant displacement.

The second bill, SB 10, makes it easier for local governments to rezone areas near transit centers for multifamily housing of up to 10 units per parcel. Cities can choose to streamline construction of small apartments near transit. Or not. SB 10 is completely voluntary. SB 10 allows local governments to upzone without going through a lengthy California Environmental Quality Act review or face CEQA lawsuits, which can delay projects and make them more expensive. Local governments can also use SB 10 to override voter-imposed land-use restrictions that would block such small residential buildings.

The last in the trio of bills, SB 8, extends until 2030 the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, which “accelerates the approval process for housing projects, curtails local governments’ ability to downzone and limits fee increases on housing applications. 

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, author of SB 8, said on Twitter that her bill ensures “that California’s local governments can’t just say ‘no’ or add unnecessary delays to housing that already meets local rules.”

Matthew Lewis, Communications Director at California Yimby said at the Ethnic Media Services briefing, “ Zoning rules had made it impossible to build affordable housing. Cities have been struggling with these problems whose roots lay in the decisions taken in the 1970s when certain areas were down zoned and lower income families were pushed out. They knew what they were doing….creating exclusive communities. In 1972 they cut the number of people living in LA by more than half. 50 years later we are facing these housing challenges.” 

Lewis said that when a person who earns $100,000 a year and still qualifies for housing subsidies there is something wrong with the picture. With the statewide end to exclusionary single family housing, people who are competing with each other to buy single family homes will be able to buy smaller homes. These homes will be more affordable. It is an incredibly important first step…,” he said.

SB 9 opens up new homeownership opportunities at more attainable price points for prospective purchasers, who would be able to apply for a traditional mortgage to buy the home. This ability to create duplexes and/or split the lot and convey new units with a distinct title would allow property owners to pursue a wider range of financing options.

While upzoning can help the whole housing market go down in price, it can also unlock value for existing homeowners.

Samir Gambhir, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) researcher and manager of Opportunity Mapping program at the Othering & Belonging Institute said at the Ethnic Media Services briefing, “Where we live determines our life outcomes. Access to jobs, access to schools, access to safe neighborhoods, all these are determined by where we live.” 

“Restrictive zoning has led to opportunity hoarding,” said Gambhir.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

Photo by Maximillian Conacher on Unsplash

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Ritu Marwah

Ritu Marwah is an award-winning author ✍️ and a recognized Bay Area leader in the field of 🏛 art and literature. A California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health...