The Homework Newsletter

The HomeWork: February 7, 2024

February 07, 2024

Welcome to the February 7, 2024 Main edition of The Homework, the official newsletter of California YIMBY — legislative updates, news clips, housing research and analysis, and the latest writings from the California YIMBY team.

News from Sacramento

On February 5th, State Senator Mike McGuire was sworn in as the 49th President Pro Tempore of the California State Senate. California YIMBY looks forward to working with Senator McGuire to solve California’s housing shortage and affordability crisis, and build a state that is affordable to everyone.

We would also like to thank outgoing Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins for her track record of public service, and in particular her dedication to helping pass major housing reform through the Legislature. Her leadership on SB 9 (Atkins, 2021) established a state-wide standard of ministerial approval for qualified applications to create duplexes, or subdivide an existing, single-family parcel into two lots, if they meet strict criteria.

In legislative news, the deadline for new legislation to be introduced during the current session is February 16th. We expect many legislators may introduce “spot bills,” which are placeholders for legislation that is still being developed, in order to submit final bill language after the deadline has passed.

California YIMBY is in the final stages of developing our legislative package for the 2024 legislative year. More to come on our priority bills in the coming weeks.

Update on SB 312 (Wiener):

  • The bill passed the Senate Floor, and is awaiting Assembly referral.
  • This bill will resolve a technical issue that has prevented the use of SB 886 (Wiener, 2022), ensuring student and faculty housing on university land can be built faster, and at lower cost.

The Senate has yet to announce its committee assignments; stay tuned to future editions of The Homework, and follow the California YIMBY Twitter channel, @cayimby, to stay up to date on developments on legislative policy committees and related news.

Housing Research & Analysis

Smaller Lots, Smaller Prices: Evidence from Houston

In recent years, pro-housing reformers around the country have successfully changed state and local land use policies to allow greater density on residential lots zoned exclusively for one house. Most of these efforts have focused on adjusting regulations such as zoning codes and public review processes to legalize multifamily housing – i.e., more than one house per residential lot, such as fourplexes and apartments – on parcels of land that are large enough to accommodate them, but zoned to prohibit their construction.

Houston, Texas has taken a different path. Instead of rezoning for so-called “missing middle” multifamily housing, Houston reduced its minimum lot size from 5,000 square feet to 1,400 square feet. These reforms made it possible to build smaller, less-expensive homes on less land. Some zoning reform critics argue that allowing more density will not bring down housing prices because any increase in allowable density will raise the price of land. In a recent paper, Emily Hamilton tests this hypothesis. The Effects of Minimum Lot Size Reform on Houston Land Values uses data from Houston’s 2013 expansion of minimum lot size reform and finds no evidence for land value lift.

Key Takeaways:

  • Minimum lot size reform had no measurable effect on land values.
  • The lot size reform has facilitated a large amount of housing construction.
  • The subsequent increase in housing supply put downward pressure on rents.

Paying the Ultimate Price for Housing: The Case for Affordability

Housing has long been studied as a social determinant of health, but past studies have mostly looked at housing quality (for example, lead paint, indoor air pollution) and neighborhood effects (such as segregation) – with less attention paid to rent burden and eviction as determinants of health.

Nick Graetz, Carl Gershenson, Sonya R Porter, Danielle H Sandler, Emily Lemmerman, and Matthew Desmond step in to fill this gap in the research with a paper on [t]he impacts of rent burden and eviction on mortality in the United States, 2000–2019. The researchers combined census data, Social Security records, eviction data, and ACS rent/income data to track more than six million renters over two decades, establishing an association between rent burden, eviction, and increased mortality.

Key takeaways

  • Rent burden is associated with increased mortality, and the effect scales with the degree of rent burden.
  • Eviction filings that do not result in eviction are associated with a 19 percent increase in mortality, while an eviction judgment is associated with a 40 percent increase. 
  • Policies designed to increase the supply of affordable housing and prevent eviction may lead to widespread improvements in public health.

California ADU Reform: A Retrospective

On January 25th, the California YIMBY Education Fund released a new report on the role of ADUs, or “accessory dwelling units,” in advancing our housing production goals. The report, “California ADU Reform: A Retrospective,” walks through the series of new laws passed by the State Legislature between 2016 and 2023 that removed barriers to ADU production put in place by California cities. The key finding: Since 2017, over 80,000 new ADUs have been built in backyards, attics, and garages across California – an increase of 15,000%.

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