Two things seem certain about California’s affordable housing challenges. One that’s generally agreed upon: Facing an exodus of workers being priced out of major cities—and with homelessness on the rise—the state needs to build a lot more affordable housing, on an almost mind-boggling scale. To meet demand, Los Angeles County alone needs 800,000 new homes before 2030, and more than a third need to be affordable to low-income and very-low income households.
Second, achieving this goal will require something that should be equally uncontroversial: Continuing to do what we know works to get affordable housing built.
A bill moving through the Legislature, Senate Bill 423, introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, would extend one of California’s most successful tools for accelerating affordable housing development, the streamlined approval process created in 2017 by Senate Bill 35. But with the law set to expire, legislators need to act this year to keep the SB 35 process in place—and for the state to have a fighting chance of producing all of the homes struggling Californians need.
This should be an easy decision, because for the last four years, SB 35 has proven to be undeniably effective. Instead of taking years to get affordable housing projects approved, the bill has dramatically shortened timelines—and reduced costs—by allowing 100% affordable projects that meet local design and zoning standards, on land already approved for housing, to move quickly into construction in communities not keeping pace with their housing goals.
Over 11,000 units of affordable housing have relied on the SB 35 process, according to the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing and Innovation—and an additional 5,000 units are in the pipeline. In 2019, Linc Housing relied on SB 35 to build a 64-unit supportive housing project in Historic Filipinotown, a community with a median income 40% lower than the LA County average. With the help of accelerated local approvals, the development opened in 2022 and is now providing homes and wraparound services to previously homeless residents.
More than 25% of all SB 35 applications over the last five years have been from Los Angeles, and advocates for our region’s homeless and historically disadvantaged communities recognize that without this law, vulnerable groups will lose one of their best chances at accessing safe, affordable housing.
Black residents are the most rent burdened in Los Angeles—the lasting legacy of decades of racial discrimination. Black and Latino residents make up 70% of the homeless population of LA County. Both of our organizations have seen the impact of the shortage firsthand: Without access to safe, stable housing, many of our community members struggle to access other resources, like health, education, and job services.
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The best way to help workers and families struggling to survive skyrocketing housing costs is to build more affordable homes. Now is certainly not the time to take away the proven tools we need to do the job. But that is exactly what will happen if SB 423 doesn’t pass.
SB 423’s proposals should be common sense: The bill removes the sunset on a successful law and incorporates strong new labor standards approved last year by Gov. Newsom that will ensure every worker on these projects earns high wages and health benefits.
With California facing an urgent affordable housing crisis, this bill will improve every community’s ability to respond—and continue building the affordable homes millions of Californians are depending on.
Extending SB 35 should not be a hard choice. We hope our state’s leaders won’t let it be.
Rebecca Clark is president and CEO of Linc Housing. Tommy Newman is vice president of engagement and activation at United Way of Greater Los Angeles.