(The Center Square) – California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed just short of 40 new housing bills into law Wednesday, including two measures at the center of a hard-fought legislative agreement that will open up underutilized commercial spaces to housing development.

Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2011 by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks and Senate Bill 6 by Senator Anna Caballero, two measures allowing housing to be built on parcels zoned for office, retail or parking. The key differences between the two measures have to do with housing affordability requirements and labor standards – the focus of a legislative agreement reached in August with labor groups and housing advocates.

With the Golden State facing a severe housing shortage and affordability crisis, supporters say the laws will help spur desperately-needed housing development in empty storefronts and create new jobs. Wicks told The Center Square in August that her bill could result in up to 2 million new housing units being built.

“What this bill does is it reimagines what our cities can look like,” Wicks said of AB 2011 on Wednesday. “It says you know what, we have an abundance of retail space, we have an abundance of office parks that are no longer being utilized, and we have a real deficit of housing. Let’s use that land for what it should be for – homes so people have housing security.”

AB 2011 develops a streamlined process for residential development in commercial zones that includes a certain percentage of affordable housing units. The law also requires workers to receive prevailing wages.

SB 6 also allows market-rate housing development in commercial zones but requires the use of a “skilled and trained” workforce – meaning some workers graduated from a state-certified apprenticeship program. Both bills take effect July 1, 2023.

The new laws represent a compromise reached between housing developers and trades groups, who initially struggled to agree on the labor standards. The solution reached by the groups essentially gives developers a choice. The law with affordable housing requirements does not require a skilled and trained workforce, while the bill requiring a skilled workforce does not have housing affordability requirements. 

The governor and lawmakers praised the compromise Wednesday.

“Doing anything that is big or consequential in the Legislature isn’t easy, and it can be messy,” Senator Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said Wednesday. “But at the end of the day, all sides came together to get the job done, put aside their differences, put aside politics to ensure housing gets built.”

Dozens of other bills Newsom signed Wednesday include measures to exempt many university housing projects from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), provide incentives to developments that set aside units for people who are experiencing homelessness, and offer a property tax welfare exemption to non-profit corporations that build affordable housing and sell to low-income families.

“This is a moment on a journey to reconcile the original sin – the original sin of the state of California – and that’s the issue of housing and affordability,” Newsom said Wednesday. “These bills matter. They go across the spectrum.”

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