Blog Legislature Gives Teeth to State Law: SB 167 & AB 678 Ensure Housing Accountability

Sept. 17, 2017

San Francisco — Recalcitrant cities and municipalities across the state no longer have a free hand to block badly-needed housing, thanks to new legislation passed at the Capitol last week that was drafted largely by YIMBYs. Cities will no longer be able to skirt the Housing Accountability Act by denying permits to zoning-compliant projects, a huge step forward to creating more units in exclusionary suburbs statewide.

“The success of bills to strengthen the HAA is a testament to the growing YIMBY, or Yes-In-My-Back-Yard pro-housing movement. Most YIMBYs are renters in their 20s and 30s who are locked-out of homeownership, struggling with rent, or living with housemates when we want to start families,” said Brian Hanlon, the Executive Director of California YIMBY. “We know that our housing struggles are not the result of impersonal economic forces, or lack of individual effort, but derive from bad laws and bad policy decisions that have restricted housing growth for decades.” 

S.B. 167 and A.B. 678 — two identical bills — will give teeth to the Housing Accountability Act, a 1982 state law that prevents cities from denying zoning-compliant projects unless those projects pose a serious harm to health and safety. Municipalities up and down the state have used loopholes to skirt the law for decades, preventing good projects from being built because they go against neighborhood character.

The new bills strengthen the burden of proof cities must meet when denying projects, increase compliance with the law by granting petitioners their attorney’s fees, fines cities that are found in non-compliance, and prevents cities from circumventing the HAA by creating arbitrary procedures.

“This bill, by tackling NIMBY obstacles, will help ensure the housing actually gets built,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), the sponsor of S.B. 167. “While it’s not going to invent new housing developments, it’s going to give those housing developments that are permittable under current rules greater likelihood of getting built.”

In the past two years, the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (CaRLA) has sued both Berkeley and Lafayette for denying a zoning-compliant projects in violation of the HAA. Just last month, a judge agreed with CaRLA in its suit against Berkeley, finding that the city violated the HAA when it denied permits for housing construction.

That experience led Hanlon and Ryan Patterson, the lead attorney in the HAA cases against Berkeley and Lafayette, to draft the bills with Sen. Skinner and Asm. Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima), the sponsor of the twin legislation A.B. 678. 

“Cities no longer get the benefit of the doubt when they break the law,” said Patterson. “SB-167 will put a dent in the state’s housing crisis. The Housing Accountability Act is a powerful tool. It should not be underestimated.”

“This bill improves enforcement of the HAA and will prohibit bad-acting local governments and NIMBY groups from continuing to perpetuate the housing crisis,” said Asm. Bocanegra. “Amidst a housing crisis of this magnitude, local governments should not have the cover of law if they chose to deny a housing project unlawfully.”

While YIMBYs skew young and professional class, we’re excited to have partnered with a diverse array of groups to make housing more affordable and accessible. Both bills enjoyed bipartisan support and endorsements from non-profit developers, advocates for low-income people, environmental groups, and the California business community. 

YIMBYs are proud to have advanced bills that allow housing construction in exclusionary areas and begin to ensure all cities are doing their part to address California’s massive housing shortage and affordability crisis.