A slew of ambitious housing legislation has emerged recently in states as varied as Maine, Utah, and Washington, all aiming to address housing shortages by loosening zoning restrictions. Interestingly, these discussions often reference California, but not in a positive light. Policymakers and advocates elsewhere warn of the dangers of following the “California model” and emphasize the need for pro-housing policies to prevent similar problems.

However, it’s essential to note that California has also become a national model for housing reform, with recent efforts to rectify past mistakes. While the state’s new laws haven’t yet produced the desired increase in housing, they have brought about significant positive changes. This article examines the impact of California’s housing legislation, explores the challenges it faces, and highlights valuable lessons for policymakers in other states.

The Need for Change:

California’s housing crisis serves as a cautionary tale for other states, emphasizing the importance of actively increasing housing supply. Despite over 100 housing-related laws passed since 2016, annual building permits have remained stagnant at just over 100,000 homes, far below the necessary 180,000 homes required to meet demand. Homelessness rates continue to rise, and rents and home prices remain at historic highs. However, these numbers do not provide the full picture.

Positive Effects of Recent Legislation:

Several recent laws have had a tangible, positive effect on California’s housing landscape. Reforms that ease restrictions on accessory dwelling units, such as granny flats and backyard cottages, have led to a significant increase in this type of housing. Within a span of six years, these units have gone from an insignificant share of home building to account for 1 in 5 building permits.

Streamlining California’s lengthy approval processes has also played a crucial role in accelerating housing construction, particularly for affordable and mixed-income developments. Enhancements to the state’s density bonus programs have allowed developers to add more units to projects if some are designated as below-market rates, further incentivizing the creation of affordable housing.

Setting the Stage for Future Construction:

Recent changes in California’s laws and regulations governing local housing production have paved the way for significant new home construction in the near future. Reforms to the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, Housing Element Law, and Housing Accountability Act have compelled cities to plan for substantially more housing in realistic ways. These reforms have also limited the tools used to delay and block housing approval and construction.

Cities Taking the Lead in Housing Legislation:

While these changes may not make headlines, they signal a vital shift in the approach of cities and counties toward housing planning and development. Cities like Los Angeles have already begun embracing this shift, exemplified by the City Council’s recent vote to zone for 135,000 additional units in Hollywood and downtown. Some cities, such as San Diego, have even surpassed state-level requirements by expanding on accessory dwelling units and density bonus requirements, adopting a proactive stance in getting housing approved.

Lessons for Other States:

California’s housing crisis should serve as a cautionary tale for other states, urging them to increase housing supply before it’s too late. Despite facing ongoing challenges such as high construction costs and economic uncertainty, California’s recent reforms offer valuable lessons for policymakers elsewhere. States can learn from both the successes and struggles of California’s housing legislation, recognizing that progress takes time but is worth pursuing.


California’s housing legislation has sparked nationwide conversations and debates, with the state serving as both a warning and a model for housing reform. While the desired increase in housing has yet to be fully realized, significant positive changes have already occurred. The ongoing work of reshaping California’s housing paradigm should not be disregarded. Policymakers in other states can draw inspiration from California’s successes, as well as learn from the challenges it continues to face. By actively addressing housing shortages and implementing thoughtful reforms, states can work towards creating sustainable and affordable housing for their residents.