SB827 Demands A Sensible Mix Of Housing With Transit

Earlier this month, California legislators introduced SB827, a sweeping housing regulatory reform bill. If passed, the bill would deal a major blow to the influence of NIMBY sentiment on housing production, in a state where a 7-story, 100% affordable housing development on the site of what is currently a McDonalds faces community opposition for being too tall. Put simply, the bill would prohibit California municipalities from imposing density or height limits on developments within a half-mile or quarter-mile of frequent transit stops, depending on the service levels.

The bill has attracted support as well as criticism from urbanist circles; urbanists who are skeptical of market solutions to the housing crisis wonder if sweeping upzoning would be a shock to the housing market and simply gentrify areas around transit. Sen. Scott Weiner, one of the bill’s sponsors, responded to these criticisms in  a Medium post. However, the most substantial impact of SB827 could be whether it is mirrored in other states, because it can and should be a national model for transit financing.

Transit works best in high-density environments. A rush to build light rail in comparatively sprawling municipalities has had disappointing results. If jobs and housing are spread out, it makes little sense to think that moving people along linear corridors will improve mobility. In order for transit – especially capital-intensive transit – to be justified, it needs appropriate land use. SB827 would make transit more effective by inherently requiring that transit can only be built in areas with enough housing to support it.

Applying the law’s principles nationally, federal transit funding could stipulate that money would only go to regions committed to upzoning around the proposed services. This would be a welcome move towards density and fiscal responsibility.

Ethan Finlan
Ethan Finlan is a writer and sketch comedian based in the Boston area.