Newsom Abolishes Single-Family Lots in California to Fix Housing Crisis

Photo: (Photo : Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has approved Senate Bill 9 (SB9) to fix the housing crisis and allow residents to turn their single-family lots into multi-family dwellings shared by a maximum of four families.

The law essentially abolishes a 100-year-old zoning rule that banned property owners from building apartments or even a duplex in their single-family lots. The change has been a long time coming as lawmakers have been trying to tackle the state's lack of housing supply and homelessness.

Once SB9 takes effect on Jan. 1, 2022, duplexes, quadruplexes, or smaller apartment buildings may be built on former standalone residential zones if the property owner wants to make changes. To be clear, lot owners can still retain their single-family properties, but this law provides new options.

It will also allow the homeowners to profit from the changes by renting or selling a portion of their lot. Exceptions to the law, however, are given to heritage neighborhoods.

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According to Sen. Toni Atkins, homeownership or renting a house big enough for a family was only a "far-off dream" for many Californians. This law closes the gap and allows families to make their dreams of owning a home come true.

Over 700,000 New Homes

Stakeholders in favor of abolishing the exclusionary single-family lots zoning are excited about the possibilities of SB9. Brian Hanlon of California YIMBY said this has been a huge step in "making California a more affordable, equitable, and inclusive state."

Yet, some local officials and homeowner associations have opposed the new law as they anticipate the destruction of the neighborhoods, especially in the suburbs where many sprawling, single-family lots exist. They fear that developers would use this law for gentrification and changes that will not include inputs from the residents.

A survey from the Terner Center learned that the new law would allow for over 700,000 new California homes to be built. However, not many homeowners might be willing to change, sell or subdivide their land, which will not help with the housing shortage. Terner Center also stated that since buying a lot and building a home in California cost a lot of money, the option to expand to a multi-dwelling might only be affordable to some residents.

Homelessness, A Major Concern

In another poll in 2020, 89 percent of Bay Area residents said they worry about homelessness and the lack of housing supplies, while 86 percent said that the rising cost of housing is becoming a major problem. The housing situation has families mulling leaving the state, which could change their kids' lives and future generations.

Fixing the housing crisis was one of Newsom's campaign promises. In his first year in office, he set aside $1 billion to address homelessness across the state and $1.75 billion for housing projects. In 2021, he committed another $12 billion for homeless housing.

California is not the first state to approve zone changes for single-family lots. In 2019, Oregon passed a similar law to allow duplexes in exclusive zones for cities with less than 10,000 residents.

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