Public Law

Public Law Journal: Spring 2014,Vol. 37, No. 2

Obtaining Affordable Housing with Density, Not Dollars—A Guide to the California Density Bonus Law

By Jon E. Goetz*


Even after the elimination of redevelopment agencies in California, cities and counties still have the means to stimulate the development of affordable housing in their jurisdictions. One mechanism receiving more attention today is California’s Density Bonus Law (Government Code Sections 65915 – 65918), which gives housing developers more favorable development requirements in exchange for the construction of affordable or senior units. And all this without pledging scarce taxpayer dollars to a development.

The Density Bonus Law provides developers with powerful incentives to construct affordable and senior housing. As its name suggests, the law allows developers to build more units per acre of land than would normally be permitted under local city or county zoning codes. This additional allowance or "density bonus" can be as high as a 35% increase in the permitted number of residences or units in a project, depending on the amount of affordable housing provided. Such bonuses are significant in a state like California where land costs are relatively high and increases in unit density can provide great financial and environmental benefits to both developers and communities.

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