A new state law effective next year would effectively ban single family housing lots in an effort to ease the state’s housing crisis. While the law would allow more units to be built on a single family parcel, local cities are pushing back against the idea.
The Hanford City Council September 21 unanimously passed a resolution opposing SB9 and stated that the law and others are removing local control from cities. The resolution was initiated by Council Member Kalish Morrow and strongly supported by City Manager Mario Cifuentez.
Morrow, a Libertarian, said SB9 takes away local control. She said the legislation was directed more to larger cities such as San Diego, L.A. and San Francisco and didn’t consider the best interests of Hanford. The Libertarian Party promotes limiting the size and scope of government, according to its website. In addition, the party, according to its website, opposes any government interference in personal, family and business decisions including gun control. Morrow represents District B in North Hanford which is a more affluent area of the city.
In Visalia, Council Member Greg Collins, who is also an urban planner, said there are other ways the number of housing units could be increased besides allowing more units on a single family lot. For instance, in Visalia seven units per acre are allowed in a mobile home park. Further, the second story of older commercial buildings can be converted to housing as has been done in downtown Visalia and in Kingsburg.
The marketplace is increasing housing, he said, because single family houses and apartments are profitable for developers. However, with the level of homelessness and prices of new homes, there is still inadequate amount of affordable housing.
Hanford Council Member Art Brieno, a contractor, said he strongly supports affordable housing. The community development director, planning staff and city council, he said, need to understand the importance of affordable housing.
He echoed Collins’ point about being creative about ways to increase the housing stock through ideas such as tiny houses and modifying RV regulations to allow RVs to park in the back of a single family property.
Brieno said SB9 is opposed by the California League of Cities and the league needs to be consulted so the law can be modified.
The State Legislature and Governor Newsom are addressing two related problems with the law: homelessness and housing affordability. Statewide 100,000 people sleep outside each night. In Kings and Tulare counties the number is in the thousands.
At least part of the increase in homelessness is due to the lack of affordable housing in California where the median price of a home is $800,000. Locally in Hanford, Visalia and Lemoore existing homes are selling for $180,000 – $400,000 with many in the high $300,000 range, according to Realtor.com.
Kings and Tulare counties are well short of the state’s goals for new housing construction. Kings met just 10.8 percent of the state’s housing goals and Tulare County’s attainment was 14.9 percent, according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development’s website.
Achieving the goals is important because the state can withhold Community Development Block Grant money if a city does not meet state housing goals, said Collins. The money, which comes from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, is a huge source of revenue to local cities. Hanford received $558,528 in 2021, according to the city.
The law, detailed in SB9, would affect about 400,000 parcels statewide and allow two to four units to be built on what was formerly a single family lot. Each year in California, a state with 40 million people, only has about 100,000 new housing permits while government reports claim there is a 2 million deficit of housing units in the state.
The idea of increasing housing affordability through zoning changes has caught on in other California cities and outside the state. Prior to SB9 becoming law, Sacramento allowed multi-family units to be built in areas zoned for single family lots. Zoning involves local regulations about what can be built where. Cities such as Charlotte, NC and Minneapolis have enacted similar policies to Sacramento’s.
Oregon has banned single family zoning.
Historically single family zoning has been fiercely defended by property owners and it is also a tool to exclude less economically well off racial and ethnic minorities from living in certain neighborhoods since single family homes are more expensive than apartments or condos.