Sacramento Leading the Country with Groundbreaking Housing Plan?

New Construction of a Four Plex Missing Middle Hoousing

Sacramento's latest general plan positions the city as a leader in progressive housing policies nationwide.

On February 27, 2024, Sacramento took a giant leap forward with the City Council's adoption of the transformative 2040 general plan. This plan, kicking off on March 28, is set to revolutionize housing in our city, particularly near transit hubs and within our neighborhoods, cutting down our car dependence significantly.

“The Sacramento City Council Tuesday adopted a 2040 general plan that includes nation-leading policies to encourage housing construction near transit and in existing neighborhoods and reduce dependence on cars.

The new general plan takes effect on March 28 and will govern land uses in the city for the next two decades. Key changes include allowing property owners to build on a greater portion of their lot (known as floor area ratio, or FAR) if they construct neighborhood scale, multi-unit buildings such as triplexes and fourplexes in areas previously designated for single-family homes. Existing height limits will remain to preserve the scale of single-family neighborhoods even as their population increases. “
Courtesy "Mayor's Office of Community Engaagement"

The heart of this plan promotes multi-unit developments like triplexes and fourplexes in traditionally single-family areas, boosting community density while keeping the neighborhood feel intact. It marks Sacramento as the first U.S. city to lift limits on the number of units in single-family zones, as long as they meet specific standards. This move aims to address the "missing middle" in housing, positioning Sacramento as a leader in innovative housing solutions.

A standout feature is the policy limiting the size of new single-family homes to encourage smaller, more affordable options, making homeownership more accessible. Mayor Darrell Steinberg champions this plan as a reflection of our city's values, aimed at housing availability for all.

Contributions from over 4,000 residents through extensive community engagement have shaped this plan, which also includes a Climate Action & Adaptation Plan targeting carbon neutrality by 2045.

Further, the plan prioritizes urban infill and sustainable transport options over cars, and introduces policies like removing parking requirements for new developments and mandating electric vehicle charging stations at new gas stations.

This plan, a result of five years of community input, not only aims to address housing needs but also to create a more sustainable, accessible Sacramento. It's definitely a testament to the power of collaboration and a blueprint for a brighter, inclusive future.

LET’S TALK ABOUT THE GLASS HALF FULL – WHEN WILL WE REAP THE BENEFITS?

If developers fully embrace Sacramento's 2040 general plan, the benefits such as increased affordable housing availability could unfold over several stages, influenced by various factors including planning, approval processes, and construction timelines. Here’s a potential timeline (Short term, Mid term and long term) for when Sacramentans might start seeing the tangible results of this visionary plan:

 Short-Term (1-3 Years)

- Initial Projects Begin: Early adopters among developers might start proposing projects under the new guidelines shortly after the plan goes into effect on March 28, 2024. These initial projects will likely be smaller in scale but pivotal in setting precedents.

- Streamlined Approvals: With policies aimed at encouraging housing development, particularly near transit and in existing neighborhoods, the city might streamline approval processes, leading to quicker starts on construction.

 Mid-Term (3-5 Years)

- Construction Completion: The first wave of projects begun in the plan's early years will start to be completed and available to residents. This includes multi-unit developments like triplexes and fourplexes in areas previously limited to single-family homes.

- Visibility of Affordable Options: As more of these projects reach completion, the market should begin to see an increase in the availability of more affordable housing options, particularly those aimed at the "missing middle" demographic of homebuyers.

 Long-Term (5-10 Years)

- Widespread Adoption and Impact: Within a decade, the cumulative effect of the plan’s policies will likely become evident, with a significant increase in housing stock, including affordable housing options. This is when the full vision of the plan starts to materialize, with increased density, diversity in housing types, and a reduction in car dependency as more people live near transit options.

- Sustainable Growth and Carbon Neutrality Goals: The broader sustainability goals, including carbon neutrality by 2045, will also start to see foundational progress, supported by the development of eco-friendly housing and the enhanced infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit users.

 Continuous Benefits

- Community Engagement and Policy Evolution: Continuous feedback from residents and developers will help refine and adjust policies to ensure they meet the community's needs and adapt to changing market conditions.

- Economic and Environmental Benefits: Beyond housing, the plan's focus on sustainability and reduced car dependency is expected to yield broader economic and environmental benefits, enhancing the quality of life in Sacramento.

For Sacramentans, the timeline to reap the benefits will vary based on location, the type of developments that proceed, and how quickly the city and developers can mobilize resources to implement the plan. While some changes will be visible in the near term, the most transformative impacts, particularly in affordability and sustainability, will build over time, reflecting a long-term commitment to reshaping Sacramento’s housing landscape.

LET’S TALK ABOUT THE GLASS HALF EMPTY – WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES INTENDED & POTENTIALLY UNINTENDED?

While Sacramento's 2040 general plan aims to tackle the housing crisis with innovative solutions, like any comprehensive policy shift, it could also lead to unintended consequences. Identifying these potential issues early on can help stakeholders mitigate negative impacts. Here are some possible unintended consequences of the plan:

Increased Gentrification and Displacement

- Rising Property Values: As neighborhoods become more desirable due to improved infrastructure and increased housing options, property values might rise. This can lead to gentrification, where long-term residents, often from lower-income backgrounds, can no longer afford to live in their neighborhoods and are displaced.

 Strain on Infrastructure and Services

- Increased Demand on Resources: With denser development encouraged, especially near transit areas and within existing neighborhoods, there could be a strain on existing infrastructure and services, including schools, parks, and utilities, if enhancements to these services don't keep pace with development.

 Impact on Community Character

- Alterations to Neighborhood Dynamics: The introduction of multi-unit developments in traditionally single-family neighborhoods, even with height and FAR regulations, might alter the character and dynamics of communities, potentially leading to resistance from existing residents.

 Affordability May Not Reach the Most Vulnerable

- Middle-Income Focus: The plan's emphasis on the "missing middle" housing might inadvertently overlook the needs of the lowest income brackets, who are often most in need of affordable housing solutions.

 Market Volatility

- Economic Cycles: The success of the plan is also subject to broader economic conditions. Downturns or fluctuations in the real estate market could impact the feasibility of proposed developments, affecting the plan's overall goals.

 Environmental Concerns

- Sustainable Development vs. Green Space: Increased density could potentially lead to reduced green spaces if not carefully managed, impacting urban heat islands, biodiversity, and residents' mental health.

 Political and Economic Risks

- Regulatory Changes and Developer Interest: Future political shifts could alter or roll back parts of the plan. Additionally, developers' interest in pursuing the types of projects encouraged by the plan might fluctuate based on economic incentives and market demand.

This bold initiative seeks to expand housing availability, facilitate easier access to transportation that doesn’t rely on cars, and prioritize environmental sustainability.

As we hear more about and move forward with the implementation of Sacramento's 2040 general plan, keep in mind that the five year development of this plan was a collaborative effort, incorporating feedback from a wide array of community members – 4000 to be more precise. So we can state with some certainty this initiative represents a significant step towards addressing our city's future needs.

For the plan to reach its full potential, ongoing evaluation, community engagement, and the willingness to adapt strategies are essential.

The results of these efforts are not going to be immediate, but with collective commitment and action, the improvements we want to achieve in making our city more livable and sustainable are well within reach.

The primary objective is to create a more inclusive, accessible Sacramento where every resident has access to quality housing and can enjoy a vibrant community life. Continuous monitoring and open dialogue will guide the adjustments needed to refine and advance the plan. Together, we have the opportunity to shape a city that reflects our shared values and aspirations. A Sacramento we can all be proud of and more importantly, a Sacramento we can all afford to call home.

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