California Lawmakers Advance Bill To Allow Affordable Housing in Commercial Districts
Supporters Say Legislation Could Be Valuable Tool to Address State's Housing Deficit
By Randyl Drummer
May 24, 2022 | 12:04 P.M.
The California Assembly advanced a measure that would create a streamlined process for developers to convert
underused or vacant commercial properties into affordable units to help address the state’s housing shortage.
Assembly Bill 2011, introduced by Housing and Community Development Committee Chair Buffy Wicks, a Democrat
from Berkeley, passed 43-9 and will advance to the state Senate, where it must be approved and then signed by Gov.
Gavin Newsom to become law, according to California Legislature rules.
A broad coalition of affordable housing developers, advocates for the homeless and California mayors have supported
the bill as a tool to expand housing options to include areas now zoned for office, retail and parking.
The bill would require that all units in these developments be dedicated to households earning 80% of the area median
income or less at an affordable rent or purchase price.
Wicks said Monday on the Assembly floor that the bill would make it easier to build mixed-income affordable housing
on underutilized commercial sites where it is currently difficult or impossible to build because of local government
restrictions and other red tape.
“Polling shows that lack of affordable housing and homelessness are the number one issues for voters across the state,”
Wicks told colleagues, adding that she is working with union leaders and other groups to amend the bill in the state
Senate to make it more palatable to opponents.
California needs at least 1.8 million new housing units, or 180,000 new houses annually, to meet demand through 2025,
according to a study released three years ago by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of
California, Berkeley. The state has averaged just over 100,000 housing starts annually in the past few years, despite
rising demand that has driven housing costs beyond the reach of many lower-income and working-class Californians,
according to census data.
Opposition to the bill has come from most of the state’s construction labor unions, including the politically influential
State Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents 450,000 members across 157 unions ranging from
ironworkers to operating engineers. The trades council argues that the bill doesn’t require developers to hire enough
The most recent version of the legislation represents a compromise between carpenters and affordable housing
developers, groups that are often at odds. The California Conference of Carpenters, which argued that building more
affordable housing will help put more of its members to work, now backs the bill's passage.
AB 2011 would “open the door to middle-class, blue-collar careers for young workers who will actually be able to live in,
and eventually even own, the affordable housing they build," the Conference of Carpenters said in the legislative
analysis for the bill.
Mayors Voice Support
Mayors such as Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Sacramento’s Darrell Steinberg, Jerry Berg of Fresno and Libby Schaaf of
Oakland on Monday tweeted support for the bill in advance of the vote.
"Addressing our housing crisis means using every tool in our toolbox," Garcetti's office tweeted. "Streamlining housing in
commercial zones is a common sense approach."
Laura Friedman, a Democrat representing Burbank, Glendale and La Cañada Flintridge in Los Angeles County, was
among seven Assembly members who spoke in support of the bill. A handful of Republicans and Democrats voted
against the legislation, which required a minimum 41 votes to pass out of committee, though they did not speak during
the floor session.
“We currently have a lot of underutilized or in some cases unused commercial property around the state that sits vacant
waiting for a use,” Friedman said. “At the same time, we have tens of thousands of homeless people waiting for a home.
"This seems like a match that could work very well because sometimes our municipalities move slowly, and sometimes
there’s resistance to converting some of these properties," Friedman said.
Friedman and other lawmakers said the bill needs to be amended in the Senate to work out some wrinkles. For example,
the measure needs a provision that would protect small businesses in older storefront buildings such as antique stores
and coffee shops from being displaced by affordable housing projects, she said.
"But I think that there are a lot of strip malls, old big-box stores and old, defunct shopping malls that could really use
this bill to be turned into much more valuable housing,” Friedman added.
Bills pending in the state Assembly and Senate face a Friday deadline to be passed in the chambers where they were
introduced in order to be fully approved by both chambers and signed into law by the governor this year.