Are Voters for More Multi-Family Housing in Single Family Neighborhoods?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Do Californians really want denser living particularly in single-family neighborhoods? The recent PPIC poll showed strong support by 62% to 30% allowing state laws to override local governments to create multi-family housing near transportation corridors.

The most discussed housing bill in the legislature, Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 50, that would do just that went kerplunk when Senate Appropriations Committee chair Anthony Portantino pulled the plug on the bill this year.

Supporters of the bill were infuriated and pressured the governor and senate president to keep the bill alive to no avail. When PPIC released its poll, YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) supporters asked when would legislators catch up to voters.

My gut instinct says voters are not so fired up for the bill that could alter the look of neighborhoods, but then that was my view when I wrote in early May that single family home communities that will see an altered character would probably oppose the idea.

Yet. The poll numbers say otherwise.

I expressed my surprise to Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California and the chief of the poll.  I wasn’t the only one caught off guard.

“I was surprised by the amount of public support for changing zoning laws, tying transportation funding to new housing, and CEQA changes in the poll,” Baldassare wrote. Respondents to the poll also backed the idea of denying transportation funds to local governments that didn’t meet housing goals and were adverse to changes to the California Environmental Quality Act that some housing supporters blame for the slow addition of new home building.

Baldassare looked back at information gathered in previous polls to flesh out his analysis of how this latest result might have materialized.  “Let’s keep in mind that 68 percent said that housing affordability was a big problem in their part of California and that 47 percent said that the cost of their housing makes them seriously consider moving away in the March PPIC Survey, while 52 percent said that housing places a financial strain on them in the May PPIC Survey. It seems to me that the housing problem has reached crisis proportions across regions leading many Californians to consider policy solutions outside of the status quo.”

Still, if voters had a full understanding of the potential change of character in single-family neighborhoods, that could alter results. Baldassare admitted, “Californians are not thinking about all of the consequences of these policy changes and how they might impact their neighborhood.”

The fight over whether to override local zoning laws is clearly not over and the outcome is still in question. I’ll stick by my feeling that if the issue of changing single family neighborhoods becomes more widely known to voters the numbers in a future PPIC poll on the question of multi-family housing would change.

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