A new state law plans to streamline the development of affordable housing in California and could potentially lead to more housing development in Westwood.
Senate Bill 35 requires cities, such as Los Angeles, that have not met state-set affordable housing targets to approve projects where 10 percent or more of the units are set aside for affordable housing. The law, which came into effect Jan. 1, aims to allow projects that already meet local zoning laws to be more quickly approved, even if they meet local opposition.
Affordable housing is officially defined as housing that costs less than 30 percent of income for lower-income households, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Lower-income households are those that make 80 percent or less of an area’s median income.
State Sen. Ben Allen, a Democrat representing Westwood in the state Senate and co-author of the bill, said he thinks young people cannot afford to live on the Westside and added that he hopes the law will strike the balance between increased housing options and local authority over city development.
Paavo Monkkonen, an associate professor of urban planning, said he thinks while the law will not solve the state’s housing crisis, it has the potential to help alleviate it.
“(This law) can make a significant difference … and it’s the first step to a potentially big change,” he said.
Before SB 35, cities had been able to block developments which met existing laws by holding long review periods and attaching other conditions, such as parking requirements, that increased costs.
Monkkonen added the law is an improvement to previous efforts to increase affordable housing, including California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act of 1959 and Regional Housing Need Allocation in the 1980s, because it forces cities to speed up the approval process. He added those programs were created to efficiently build affordable housing but were ultimately ineffective in doing so.
Monkkonen said the law mandates construction of affordable housing in Los Angeles, but not in Westwood specifically. However, he added he thinks it has the potential to help push down housing prices on a regional level, by mandating other cities in the Westside, such as Santa Monica and Culver City, streamline the development of more housing.
Graduate Students Association President Michael Skiles, who is a leader of Westwood Forward, which is advocating for a new neighborhood council for Westwood, said he thinks that because the law streamlines projects that set aside 10 percent of units for affordable housing, it will incentivize developers to construct affordable housing in high-income areas, such as Westwood, while also addressing the city’s housing shortage.
Skiles said the law will limit methods that local neighborhood bodies use to obstruct the construction of affordable housing, such as onerous environmental review processes and extensive parking requirements.
“If you’ve got NIMBYs controlling local review processes, such as neighborhood councils and zoning boards, they can very easily generate a phony impression of community opposition to the housing projects,” he said.
Lisa Chapman, president of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, said the council, which makes recommendations to the city, has not received any housing projects to rule on.
“This council supports affordable housing, but it can’t support it because it doesn’t come before us,” Chapman said.
Monkkonen said one problem with SB 35 is that housing requirements are based on population growth projections, which do not always reflect the demand for more housing in affluent areas.
For example, some affluent cities – such as Beverly Hills, which was only required to build three low-income housing units – do not need to streamline affordable housing development because they have already fulfilled their quota for affordable housing. Monkkonen added he thinks cities need to increase their housing supplies to meet the market’s demand and decrease the overall price of housing.
Supplementing SB 35 is Senate Bill 828, a new bill in the state Legislature that plans to address this issue by asking cities to zone for 200 percent of the allocated housing units and to not use population projections to build low amounts of affordable housing.
Cities on the Westside, including Santa Monica, are also working to introduce inclusionary zoning that would incentivize affordable housing developments, Allen said.