California Takes a Big Step Toward Legalizing ‘Missing Middle’ Housing
The headline-grabbing fights in California housing politics over the past couple years have generally been over big, ultimately unsuccessful state bills that would override local zoning restrictions to allow for apartments near transit and job centers.
This year, the state’s pro-development YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) activists and legislators devoted their energy toward wonkier, slightly more marginal reforms. The strategy appears to have paid off.
Last week, the California Assembly passed two housing reform bills. One legalizes duplexes in single-family neighborhoods across the state, and the other makes it easier for local governments to allow “light-touch” density on their own.
“We’re headed to an era when we’re going to see more of that gentle in-fill housing that was legal in California up until the 1970s and ’80s,” says Matt Lewis, communications director for California YIMBY. “This is really sort of a Back to the Future week for California housing policy.”
The duplex bill, S.B. 9, passed out of the state Assembly on Thursday. It allows homeowners to split single-family-zoned lots and then build two units on each—effectively legalizing the construction of four homes where only one was allowed before. The legislation would also require local bureaucrats to “ministerially” approve permits for lot splits and duplexes, meaning they wouldn’t have the discretion to deny or condition those permits.
This follows a growing trend of states and cities legalizing more “missing middle” housing—i.e. two-, three-, and four-unit homes—in what were once neighborhoods of exclusively single-family houses.
Minneapolis legalized the construction of triplexes citywide in 2020 (although the city’s preservation of height and massing restrictions means the change has led to very little new housing). Starting this month, developers in Portland, Oregon, are now able to build up to four
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