SB 9 & Opportunity Housing

Senate Bill 9 is state legislation that does much of what we have collectively been advocating for with Opportunity Housing. Most importantly it eliminates exclusionary, single-family zoning and allows 2-4 units to be built throughout San Jose, and across the state. On September 3rd the bill was cleared through the State Legislature and delivered to the Governor, and he signed it into law on September 16. The new law is expected to go into effect as soon as January 1, 2022.

This is a tremendous step forward, and the debate in Sacramento echoed most of the reasons many of us feel this is important to San Jose – promoting opportunity for racial and economic inclusion rather than exclusion all across the city, creating desperately needed new homes, providing new pathways to homeownership, and promoting environmentally sustainable development to prevent more sprawl.

However, there are some things SB 9 doesn’t do, including providing incentives for greater affordability, and the bill is already being threatened by a push for a statewide ballot measure to overturn it. There are good reasons to continue to push for local action in San Jose.

What does SB 9 do?

  1. SB 9 allows duplexes on most properties in California currently zoned exclusively for single houses. Additionally, it allows those properties to be split by an owner occupant to create two roughly equal parcels. 
  2. In total, SB 9 allows up to four homes on lots currently zoned for one, in the following forms: a duplex with two accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on one lot; two duplexes on separate lots; two houses with ADUs on separate lots; or a combination of the latter two.
  3. In general, local rules for height, front setbacks, lot coverage, and objective design standards would remain in effect. Rear setback, side setbacks, and parking requirements would be subject to state standards to ensure that they do not effectively block duplexes from being built.
  4. Both duplexes & lot splits under SB 9 are required to be approved by city staff as long as they conform with the law. 

How does this compare to what we have been asking for Opportunity Housing to do?

  1. We have been asking for Opportunity Housing to remove exclusionary zoning restrictions by allowing multifamily housing citywide. SB 9 applies statewide, except in designated historic districts. There is some ambiguity about what this means for San José.
  2. We have been asking for Opportunity Housing to include protections against displacement for current renters; SB 9 restricts redevelopment of homes that have been occupied by a tenant at any point in the last three years or has been subject to the Ellis Act in the last 15 years.

What could Opportunity Housing do to improve on SB 9? What’s missing?

  1. A local Opportunity Housing policy could include incentives for deeper levels of affordability, guaranteed via deed restriction. It could also include more ways to directly subsidize units.
  2. A local Opportunity Housing policy could allow more flexible development standards that could improve feasibility and make it more likely the resulting homes would be priced more affordably. These could include changes to how homes can be built on each lot and where parking would be allowed.
  3. A local Opportunity Housing policy could allow one triplex or fourplex, rather than two separate duplexes (or a duplex with two ADUs). 
    1. A triplex or fourplex may be a better option for some homeowners 
    2. A fourplex which looks like a single house may actually fit better in some neighborhoods than multiple structures, due to aesthetics, setbacks, on-site parking, etc.
  4. Opportunity Housing would be a local ordinance that fits with San Jose’s needs, and that couldn’t be overturned by a state ballot measure or future repeal by the legislature.
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