AB 2011 & SB 6: Pro-Growth or Slow Growth for Construction Workforce

SB 6

AB 2011, along with SB 6 (Cabellero, Eggman and Rubio), were passed by the California Legislature this week with large majorities in both houses. The two bills will create 10-year housing programs with similar aims: increasing housing production and increasing the skill level, wages, and number of residential construction workers. However, the bills differ in important ways—their approach to density, allowances for ministerial approvals, and the degree of deference to local zoning rules. They also take markedly different approaches to growing, training, and better compensating the residential construction workforce. The bills were the product of a political compromise between the State Building & Construction Trades Council and the Carpenters Union. They effectively set up an experiment to test the relative efficacy of the SB 6 labor rules favored by the State Building & Construction Trades Council—basically requiring union labor on any SB 6 project and the rules preferred by the Carpenters Union – requiring payment of prevailing wages and benefits to all workers on an AB 2011 project.

A good deal of attention has been given to improving the regulatory conditions for getting new housing approved, expanding access to sites, and requiring cities to upzone. However, less attention has been paid to the fact that—even if there were shovel-ready projects for the Governor’s declared goal of 3.5 million new homes over ten years—the current residential construction workforce could only build about a third of that number without significant increases in the number and productivity of workers, who currently build housing at a rate of one home per worker per year. By comparison, average productivity per worker was 1.4 units per year from 1990-2005. Put simply, the state cannot meet its housing targets without an increase in the number of workers and productivity.

However, attracting new workers has proven difficult. Median residential construction worker pay in California ranks 46th in the country when adjusted for the high cost of living. On average, residential construction workers income is 2/3 of their commercial counterparts and they get about 1/3 the amount of fringe benefits. Less than half have insurance through employers. This is a dramatic shift since the 1970s and 1980s, when average pay in both sectors was roughly equal.

AB 2011, which we discussed in greater detail last week, provides for time-limited ministerial approvals for properties on commercial corridors that meet certain criteria for affordable housing and overrides local zoning rules that conflict with its minimum standards for density and height. It also mandates payment of prevailing wage to all construction workers, or at least the prevailing apprentice wages for apprentices enrolled in state-approved apprentice programs. Family healthcare benefits are required for projects with qualified construction craft workers on projects with more than 50 units, while those without such workers can credit qualifying expenditures toward the prevailing wage requirements. Essentially, AB 2011 bets that rapid approvals under more liberal standards will entice employers to pay higher wages and create a strong, near-term incentive for developers to invest in apprenticeship programs to elevate worker productivity.

A final version of SB 6 has yet to be published, but takes a less aggressive approach than AB 2011 with lower minimum density requirements, greater deference to local zoning, and no mandatory ministerial approval process unless a project otherwise qualifies under SB 35. Thus, many SB 6 projects would be subject to lengthy CEQA reviews and modified discretionary approvals. It would require lower amounts of affordable housing subsidies by than AB 2011, but would effectively require the use of union labor if two qualified bids are received from union contractors. While SB 6 expands potential building sites, most projects would not realize the cost savings associated with quick ministerial approvals or the elimination of most entitlement/CEQA risk. Without these incentives in place, it may be years before the state sees its first SB 6 project, or additional demand for workers.

AB 2011 passed the Assembly 67-4 with 9 abstentions and the Senate 33-0 with 7 abstentions. While the 4 Noes in the Assembly were from rural and suburban districts leaning more conservative (3 Rs & 1 D), notably 7 of the 9 abstentions were from urban and suburban districts along the coast between Ventura and San Diego with a high number of Democratic representatives (6 Ds & 3 Rs). Conversely, SB 6 passed the Assembly 67-0 with 13 abstentions and the Senate 34-0 with 6 abstentions. Of the 4 Noes for AB 2011, 3 abstained in SB 6 and 1 voted yes (a democrat representative from District 29, encompassing Santa Cruz and the surrounding area). The Assembly abstentions followed a similar pattern as AB 2011, with those abstaining coming from both parties and primarily representing rural districts or coastal urban and suburban districts in Southern California. For both AB 2011 and SB 6, the Senate abstentions followed a similar geographic pattern as in the Assembly.

While union support was split between the two bills, with both construction and other unions on either side, pro-housing and business organizations tended to support both. Most affordable housing developers supported AB 2011 and opposed SB 6, presumably because the latter would tend to increase cost and time for approval without offsetting benefits. San Francisco’s Council of Community Housing Organizations, which frequently opposes market-rate development, was a notable outlier, supporting SB 6 and opposing AB 2011 in spite of its clear benefits to affordable housing developers.

Both bills still need to be signed by the governor and will not take effect until July 2023. Annual reports of projects approved under both bills are required from cities and the Department of Housing & Community Development is to provide two reports on the use of each during the ten year period prior to their sunset date.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorneys Daniel Frattin and Daniel J. Turner.

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.

AB 2011 Could Unlock Mixed-Income Housing

AB 2011

East Bay state representative Buffy Wicks, along with other co-sponsors including Senator Scott Wiener, proposed a compelling bill that aims to bridge a long-sought gap between pro-housing advocates’ desire for streamlining code-compliant multi-family residential projects with on-site affordability (both mixed-income and 100% affordable), and construction labor unions’ desire to ensure fair wages and future training for its members.

Known as the High Road Jobs Act of 2022, AB 2011 would allow ministerial, by-right approval for certain multi-family affordable housing. A development project in a zoning district where office, retail, and parking are principally permitted would be subject to streamlined, ministerial review if it meets many of the requirements for SB 35 eligibility, as well as additional locational and affordability requirements. AB 2011 projects would not need to obtain discretionary entitlements and would not be subject to CEQA.

To qualify for AB 2011 streamlining, housing development projects must either provide 100% affordability, or provide on-site affordable units, aka BMRs, in a primarily market rate project. As amended in the Senate on August 11, the on-site BMR requirement is somewhat complicated for rental units, but essentially requires between 12-15% BMRs unless a local requirement is higher, in which case the local program applies and additional AMI restrictions could be required. For condos, 30% could be offered at moderate income or 15% at lower income, and the same caveat about higher local requirements applies.

These projects would be subject to objective development standards, and additional qualifying criteria. As of August 11, the criteria for mixed-income projects include, but are not limited to:

  • proposing a multi-family housing development project;
  • abutting a commercial corridor and having a frontage at least 50 feet in width, on a site 20 acres or less in size;
  • not demolishing rent controlled or deed-restricted affordable units, or listed historic resources;
  • replacing no more than four existing units;
  • located no closer than 500 feet from a freeway;
  • providing relocation assistance to certain commercial tenants; and
  • vacant properties that are not zoned for multifamily residential use cannot qualify for streamlined ministerial processing.

Once an AB 2011 development application is submitted, several streamlining provisions apply. The local government must determine whether the project complies with objective planning standards within 60-90 days depending on unit count. If a local government determines that a project does not comply with objective planning standards, it must provide a written explanation to the proponent within this timeframe. Further, any design review must be completed within 90-180 days. Projects using the streamlined approval process would also be eligible for density bonuses, incentives, concessions, waivers, reductions in development standards, and potentially reduced parking ratios, under California’s density bonus law.

AB 2011 projects would also be required to pay construction workers at least the prevailing rate of wages and certify their compliance with this provision with the local government. As part of the developer’s obligation to pay prevailing wages, developers building 50 or more units of housing must submit monthly compliance reports to the local government.

Importantly, projects utilizing AB 2011 would not be a project for the purposes of CEQA (i.e. no environmental review) and the approval procedures the municipality would be permitted to use would solely be ministerial in nature.

In May of 2022, AB 2011 passed out of the California State Assembly, and is currently with the Senate, where it was voted out of committee on August 11. The bill has received several key union endorsements, including from the California Conference of Carpenters and SEIU. However, other unions, such as the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, and the California Labor Federation have opposed the bill claiming it would “eliminate[] the mandate that a skilled-and-trained workforce be a part of… [project] construction crews.” Unions such as the Building Trades Council oppose the bill because the bill would not require developers to use a “skilled and trained workforce,” which has the effect of eliminating the requirement that a certain percentage of workers on a project are unionized. The bill provides instead that for developments streamlined under AB 2011 that workers be paid a “prevailing wage” with some additional benefits such as healthcare coverage.

We will continue to track this potential game-changer of a bill as it makes its way through Sacramento.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorneys Mark Loper and Daniel J. Turner, and Law Clerk Alex Klein.

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.