Anyone that spends any time in California will quickly figure out that housing is one of its most significant issues. There are a couple of different viewpoints, ranging from “don’t move into my neighborhood” to “we need housing for everyone.” I’m one of those that believe that everyone seeking a home should be able to find one and that it shouldn’t cost more than 25% of their income. I’m also one of those that has experienced housing insecurity because the rent is too damn high. Why is the rent so high? Because we don’t have enough housing. And if that weren’t sad enough — it is illegal to build duplexes and smaller homes on a single plot — on most of the land zoned for housing in the state.
The State of California has a process for determining what the overall housing need is. The latest Regional Housing Needs Assessment and Allocation (RHNA) has determined that we need 2.3 million homes over the next eight years. That’s a lot. The next obvious question: How can we start to meet the demand for housing? Senate Bill 9 is one creative way to do so.
SB9, drafted by President pro Tempore Toni Atkins of the California Senate, is focused on small-scale development to address the state’s housing crisis. How? By allowing us to build more on parcels. The bill would allow for existing lots to be split, and duplexes would now be legal. This sounds like a common-sense approach, but the opposition to this bill is fired up and using fear-mongering tactics.
What SB9 is not — the end of single-family homes. People aren’t going to split their lots in droves and bring bulldozers to tear down entire blocks. The estimate by Mckinsey Global Institute is that it could create around 800,000 new homes.
The opposition has even claimed that it would harm people of color. How can more supply of homes at lower price points reduce homeownership for people of color?
Another argument I’ve heard is that it won’t make much of a difference or create more housing. It sounds contradictory to the fear that it’ll send the single-family home as we know it. Or that it would increase fire danger. The truth is, SB9 only impacts urban areas, which means that it promotes infill (use of land within a built-up area for further construction) versus sprawling out. I have even heard that it “will destroy single-family neighborhoods.” The truth is, they will still exist, and your neighborhood may even become more desirable with duplexes in it.
Here are my arguments as to why we should be supporting SB9:
Economic: building more housing creates jobs and supports multiple industries. As we reopen our economy, we could use good, high-paying trade jobs for our workers.
Equity: more housing would allow our front-line workers, like nurses, teachers and service folks, to live closer to their work. Less time commuting means transportation costs are lower, and they can spend more time with their families. They also should be able to afford to live in homes with enough room for their families.
Environment: building more on the same amount of land protects the environment from sprawl. Also, if people can afford to live closer to work, fewer cars on the road and less pollution will occur.
I leave you with this: We will still have single-family homes. It’s not a zero-sum game.
Rudy Espinoza Murray is a Redwood City resident and community organizer on housing, gun violence prevention, LGBTQ+, and LatinX issues. He is a co-founder and lead of the San Mateo County Farmworker Affairs Coalition.