Strengthening our Foundation: The 2024 California YIMBY Agenda

April 05, 2024
Brian Hanlon

For the past seven years, California YIMBY and our allies have made substantial progress on achieving our mission of making California an affordable place to live, work, and raise a family. From parking reform to ADUs, from expediting housing approvals to legalizing housing in exclusionary areas, the YIMBY movement, along with the growing cohort of pro-housing leaders in the California legislature, have a lot to be proud of.

This year, our legislative team, along with grassroots leaders in the Housing Working Group, professional advocates in the Home Building Alliance, and our YIMBY partners, have put forth a solid legislative package. But one thing you’ll notice about this year’s raft of reforms: They’re largely focused on fine-tuning our past victories, and setting up bigger wins in the future.

Unclogging the Housing Production Pipeline: Ending High Housing Fees

Homebuilding in California can be likened to a pipeline, with valves at varying steps in the process that control the “flow” of new homes. One major valve is zoning, which determines the total amount of housing that can flow through the pipe; another is local permitting, which can arbitrarily restrict the flow based on the whims of local governments or litigious NIMBYs. While there’s much more work to be done, we’ve made significant progress reforming permitting and decent progress reforming zoning at the state level.

But there’s an important third valve that still needs adjustment: The fees and expensive requirements that jurisdictions impose on new homes. The impact of these fees and expensive requirements are even more material to housing production during a time of high interest rates and construction costs. 

With one exception, California YIMBY has not yet taken a run at fee reform – until this year. In too many jurisdictions across our state, the process of determining the fees that must be paid for new homes is opaque and often unfair; builders often do not know how much a city will charge them in development fees until well after they’ve broken ground. 

This uncertainty can be catastrophic – some fees are as high as $150,000 per home. AB 2144 and AB 1820 start to address this challenge with sensible reforms that ensure cities receive the revenues they need, while builders get more transparency – and fewer surprises.

The timing of fee assessment – when agencies collect fees from home builders – also significantly impacts financial feasibility. SB 937 requires fee collectors to hold off until the local government issues a certificate of occupancy, thereby reducing financing costs for homebuilding.

Local governments aren’t the only ones charging unreasonable fees for homebuilding. SB 1210 begins to address the problem of special use districts, which also often charge high fees, by capping the total fee assessment as a percentage of construction costs.

Ultimately, we need to adopt a more sustainable financing model for local governments and infrastructure investments, end most housing impact fees, abolish transfer taxes for multifamily housing, and limit expensive requirements that don’t advance the public policy goals of enhancing quality of life, health, and safety outcomes. Stay tuned!

Fixing and Expanding Past Victories

Enabling more Californians to afford homeownership is a top priority of California YIMBY and many of our coalition partners. In pursuit of that objective, this year, we’re tackling condominium reform. 

In spite of what you may have read in the headlines about “luxury condos,” due to outdated rules, it is actually quite difficult to build new condominiums in California. These types of homes used to provide the bulk of affordable “starter homes” for first-time home buyers; we hope that the reforms in SB 1470 and SB 1462 will kick start the condominium market and start to reduce the barriers to their construction.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the pro-housing agenda is when it comes into conflict with other laws that also reflect community values. One such area is in the need to preserve genuinely historic structures – while still building the new homes our communities need. AB 2580 begins the conversation around historic preservation by ensuring that our historic resources receive the protection they deserve, while giving cities an incentive to make sure efforts to preserve historic properties do not interfere with their housing goals. 

We’re also excited to help make previously passed legislation work as intended. Major (and complex!) bills like AB 2011 often have implementation challenges, but they are fixable. There are several bills that fit in this vein of “technical fixes” that will update existing law to make it more effective – including SB 1211 (ADUs), SB 450 (duplexes), SB 1123 (small-lot subdivisions),  SB 312 (student housing), and AB 3057 (ADUs).

The Big Picture: Groundwork for Future Wins

While some of our efforts this year will focus on updating existing legislation, and others will delve into new areas of law (for us), overall, our intent is to use 2024 to build an even broader platform for pro-housing progress over the next three to five years.

Over the next nine months, we’ll be working with our allies, and building coalition support, to pass legislation over the next few years that we believe will unleash a torrent of homebuilding. I started California YIMBY to empower grassroots advocates to pass transformative legislation to end the housing shortage. We haven’t given up on big bills like SB 827. Expect to see legislation with that level of ambition and impact over the next few years, as we work to remove zoning, permitting, and housing cost rules that prevent us from building a California for everyone.

The Real Foundation: Your Passion and Commitment

Of course, our entire pro-housing agenda is built on the foundation of the passion, commitment, and attention to detail of you, our supporters and members of California YIMBY and the pro-housing movement. Much of our legislative agenda is an outgrowth of the on-the-ground awareness that is only possible because we are a true, grassroots movement – and you’re the keystone.

I’m honored to know we’ve got the support of such a diverse, informed, and engaged group of pro-housing activists, from all corners of the largest state in the U.S. I am inspired to know that, together, we have already made so much positive change.

For 2024, we’re digging into the roots of our shared progress, cleaning them up, strengthening them, and preparing to build up to even bigger wins in the months and years ahead. Thanks for being a part of our crew.

In community,

Brian Hanlon