SB 50 Revamp: The More HOMES Act Amended

SB 50 Housing

SB 50, The More HOMES Act introduced by San Francisco State Senator Scott Wiener in December 2018 was reintroduced with amendments earlier this week. The reintroduction comes after SB 50 was held by the Appropriations Committee last spring by State Senator Anthony Portantino.

SB 50, which we have previously reported on, seeks to address California’s housing crisis by requiring cities to allow increased density for housing projects near “high-quality” transit stops or “jobs-rich areas.” In addition, SB 50 would streamline permitting for multifamily housing developments up to 4 residential dwelling units that are code complaint per the zoning requirements in place as they existed on July 1, 2019. For such projects, the bill would establish a streamlined ministerial approval process, thereby exempting them from the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) approval process. And SB 50 would prohibit a local agency from adopting any requirement that applies to a project solely or partially on the basis that the project receives ministerial or streamlined approval.  Not surprisingly, opponents of SB 50 continue to express concerns regarding its incentive program taking away local control and the likely displacement of locals through gentrification.

There is an estimated shortfall of 3.5 million units of housing in California that is the result of a decade of low housing production. SB 50 enables the production of more housing and requires larger projects to set aside 15% to 25% of homes to low-income residents. SB 50 aims to increase density in residential areas by making it legal to construct small apartments complexes, such as triplexes and fourplexes, in single-family neighborhoods and up to six-story buildings adjacent to “high-quality” transit.

In order to address the local push back, the following amendments have been added:

  • Gives local governments flexibility – local flexibility plans – for how they implement SB 50’s requirements;
  • A priority preference program for local low-income residents; and
  • Continues to provide a two-year implementation delay for “potentially sensitive communities” and five-year implementation delay for “sensitive communities.” These are generally defined as communities that are vulnerable to gentrification.

Local Flexibility Plans

In lieu of being subject to SB 50, local governments may submit a “local flexibility plan” that crafts their own housing plans. The local flexibility plan must create at least the same number of new units as would be allowed under SB 50.

By July 2, 2021, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research shall publish rules, regulations, or guidelines for the submission and approval of a local flexibility plan. Local governments will have to submit their local flexibility plans to the Department of Housing and Community Development for review and approval. If the local flexibility plan is certified by the Department of Housing and Community Development, the local government would not be required to grant the incentives provided under SB 50.

To prevent a local government from concentrating new housing in certain areas, a local flexibility plan cannot result in increased vehicle miles traveled and must distribute new housing equally among both lower-income and more affluent areas. The goal being to add housing near jobs to reduce residents’ commutes, and in turn help the state reach its greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Priority Preference Program

In an effort to prevent displacement of low-income residents from their neighborhoods, individuals living within one-half mile of the housing development will receive priority for some of the project’s homes. Forty percent of a housing development’s affordable housing units are to be reserved for low income, very low income, and extremely low-income households living within one-half mile. Note, SB 50 does not include a provision for the creation of guidelines on implementation of the priority preference program.

Sensitive Communities

By July 1, 2023, “sensitive communities” in each county shall be identified by a working group comprised of residents of potentially sensitive communities within the county. The working group will develop a map of sensitive communities within the county to be adopted by the board of supervisors or council of governments, as applicable. And implementation of SB 50 would be delayed until January 1, 2026, for the identified “sensitive communities.” For “potentially sensitive communities,” implementation of SB 50 would be delayed until July 1, 2023.

Senator Wiener has indicated that housing is his top legislative priority this year. And he is likely to have a receptive ally from Governor Gavin Newsom who has pledged to have 3.5 million new homes built by 2025.

SB 50 has until January 31, 2020, to pass the State Senate otherwise the proposal officially dies in the legislature.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Justin A. Zucker

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient. Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein. Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full-service real estate law firm. We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law. We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.