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California bill to speed up affordable housing production heads to governor’s desk

One of three affordable housing units remodeled by Mission Housing in San Francisco's Mission District. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva/The Standard

The California State Assembly and State Senate passed legislation this week intended to help speed up the development of affordable housing across California. 

Senate Bill 406, authored by Senator Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, cleared the State Senate on concurrence Thursday and is now headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk for consideration.

According to Cortese's office, SB 406 aims to cut "repetitive" reviews under the California Environmental Quality Act while keeping the state's main environmental law intact. 

"SB 406 cuts red tape without compromising on environmental protection. This bill will streamline permitting and speed up affordable housing production for people with the greatest need," Cortese said in a statement Thursday.

To tackle California's unprecedented housing crisis, local governments have taken steps to offer financial aid for developing affordable housing. In 2016, Santa Clara County voters approved Measure A, a $950 million bond created to help build about 4,800 affordable units.

Public agencies regularly provide low-interest loans that support new affordable housing projects and guarantee their long-term sustainability. Similar actions to Measure A have been taken in Alameda, Los Angeles, and San Francisco counties.

However, when a local agency helps fund an affordable housing project, this financial assistance can trigger an evaluation under CEQA, in addition to the separate and independent CEQA review conducted on the project itself.

"Implementing CEQA this way is ineffective, repetitive, and ultimately causes delays and increased expenses for urgently needed affordable housing," Sen. Cortese's office said.

To address this, SB 406 extends to local governments an existing CEQA exemption for state financing of affordable housing projects, provided that the project will still undergo a CEQA review by another public agency.

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