2021 Was a Great Year for Zoning Reform

The 2021 year of zoning reform was a good one. Cities, states and entire countries passed laws that removed restrictions from new housing construction. This should be a welcome development for the residents of expensive major metropolitan areas, who now feel the effects of rising rents following a sharp drop in 2020.

A large exodus from urban workers has caused a decline in rents in major cities. This left behind an abundance of vacant apartments. Housing costs have risen as city dwellers return to the cities.

Supply-side zoning reformers hope that 2020’s declining prices can be replicated by the new laws passed. We can expand urban living by legalizing more housing near people’s homes.

California’s legislature has passed two notable bills to achieve this goal. They allow more housing in California and give local policymakers the ability to legally legalize more homes.

S.B. 9 is the first. S.B. 9 allows duplexes to be built on nearly all state residential land. It also makes it simpler for homeowners and tenants to divide their land into two separate parcels. These reforms permit up to four housing units where only one was allowed in most cases.

S.B. is described by the University of California at Berkeley’s Terner Center. 9 as a “modest, incremental improvement” and projects it will lead to the creation of about 700,000 homes—most of those in Silicon Valley communities where high residential land prices, low-density zoning, and plentiful jobs make lot-splits and duplexes viable.

S.B. 9 is that it—like other, even more ambitious bills authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D–San Francisco)—usurps the powers of local governments which are in a better position to make housing decisions for their communities.

Wiener, perhaps to appease those critics, wrote another bill, S.B. 10 that eliminates restrictions at the state level on localities making changes to their zoning codes in order to permit more housing.

The state requires that any local government that rewrites their zoning code must first do environmental studies. These studies examine how the code changes traffic, air quality and local wildlife. The process can be costly and time-consuming. If the environmental impact study isn’t complete, third parties may appeal to court.

Even the pro-housing councils can find it difficult to remove their restrictions on new home production. S.B. S.B.

Wiener said, “You can argue that that type of housing does need to be subjected to the same level of environmental scrutiny.” There are reasons It was January. It allows cities to quickly do the things they need or want, and it doesn’t take ten years to accomplish them. [environmental impact reports]şi getting sued.”

Already, local governments have begun to look into how these powers can be used to help them with their upzoning. San Francisco, for instance, is considering not one, not two, but three proposals to legalize fourplexes citywide—all of which could be passed more expeditiously thanks to S.B. 10.

This reform received much attention, which is understandable given California’s high housing prices and policy options. It was a great year for California’s YIMBY movement (yes, in my backyard), and their advocacy to repeal density restrictions to alleviate affordability pressures.

The Golden State was not the first to adopt these YIMBY-related reforms. The Golden State wasn’t the first to embrace these YIMBY reforms.

Connecticut’s H.B.6107, a comprehensive set of zoning reforms was also adopted in June 2021. This law allows for a variety of changes to land use at the state level. Most of these will be accepted by marketers.

It legalizes accessory dwelling units—colloquially known as in-law suites or granny flats—statewide, and puts some limits on the kinds of regulations local governments can place on them. California’s similar reforms have resulted in a shocking amount of new housing.

Connecticut also placed limits on how many new homes can be built by local governments. The parking minimums can increase new housing costs because developers must use additional land and build more expensive garages than residents may want. The requirement for fewer parking spaces should lead to lower development costs and, therefore, lower home prices and rents.

Another policy in Connecticut’s Zoning Reform Bill prohibits local governments from requiring minimum sizes for housing, except to protect public health.

The Constitution of America generally prevents the federal government’s involvement in land-use regulation decisions that should be left to states and local governments. Our polarized politics, even if it weren’t, would likely prevent the most important, productive reforms being approved in Washington D.C.

However, this isn’t the case in New Zealand. The country’s major parties, Labor Party and Nationals respectively, have come together to pass a nationwide upzoning law earlier this month.

California’s S.B. has a similar approach. 9 New Zealand now requires that all cities allow three-story townhomes of at least three units on land zoned residentially. It is also required that six-story residences be permitted on urban land.

New Zealand’s reforms were also more liberal in removing other restrictions on density, such as height and setback limits. If left unaffected, the slightly obscure regulations can often limit the effect of zoning changes in areas like Minneapolis. For example, newly legal triplexes and duplexes must fit within the same “envelope” as single-family homes. New Zealand’s lawmakers have addressed these red tapes simultaneously to ensure more townhomes will get built.

These reforms can’t be perfect.

California’s reforms may be positive but are still very small in comparison to the magnitude of the housing crisis. Connecticut’s new zoning law combines its deregulation reforms with fair housing regulations, and requires city planners to be certified.

ACT in New Zealand, a libertarian party, objected to the upzoning bill. This was an urban growth boundary that prohibits new suburb development. They also raised some concerns that were more typical of NIMBY about the bill.

The perfect shouldn’t be considered the enemy of good. The world saw some progress this year towards a more open market housing policy, which will help to reduce the outrageously high costs of urban housing. Let’s hope that the momentum will continue in 2022.