The Failure of California’s YIMBY Reforms: 2 Key Reasons.

Happy Tuesday! This week’s Rent Free includes a church in Ohio that is countersuing the city over zoning violations, and Vancouver approving another indigenous-owned megaproject. A new report also highlights the worsening housing affordability issues in America. But first, our lead story discusses why California’s building boom is limited to accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Since 2016, housing production in California has only increased modestly, even though dozens of bills have been passed to remove regulatory barriers to housing production. The state has an elaborate housing system requiring local governments to plan for more housing, but many YIMBY reforms have focused on improving this system. However, localities still maintain control over housing projects, allowing them to maintain constraints on construction, even if they appear to loosen them on paper. Additionally, interest group wrangling in the Legislature often adds numerous carve-outs and poison pills to housing reform bills, reducing their effectiveness. The report suggests that ADU reform was a success because it set clear, permissive statewide standards that were binding on local governments and easy for builders to comply with. It recommends that the state should do the same with all types of housing, passing clean, effective reforms that come without a bunch of cost-increasing provisions. However, the report acknowledges that housing reform is a process and suggests that YIMBY lawmakers should consider politically riskier, but more impactful bills. They also suggest using the ballot initiative process to route around a special interest-captured legislature.