California Legislature OKs Sen. Skinner’s Density Housing Bill, SB 290

August 30, 2021

The California state Senate today gave bipartisan approval to Sen. Nancy Skinner’s SB 290, which will update the state’s density bonus law to support more affordable housing, particularly for low-income college students. The Senate voted 32-4 in favor of SB 290 after the state Assembly approved it last week on a 66-1 vote. SB 290 now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom for consideration.

“California has a massive housing shortage; the lack of affordable housing, in particular, is deepening our homelessness crisis and forcing many college students to live in vehicles or resort to couch surfing,” said Sen. Skinner, D-Berkeley. “Thousands of California students are returning to classes this fall with no place to live. SB 290 will provide more incentives for housing developers to build affordable units, especially for low-income college students.”

According to the California Housing Partnership, the state currently has an estimated 1.2 million-unit shortfall of affordable rental units. Four out of five extremely low-income households pay over half of their income on rent, as do nearly half of very low-income households.

California’s housing crisis is especially acute among college students. During the past decade, the number of California college students who have experienced homelessness has soared by nearly 50%, according to a 2020 report by the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools. Today, one in five California community college students are unsheltered. For CSU students, it’s one in 10, and for UC, one in 20 UC students are experiencing homelessness.

SB 290 builds on a 2018 law by Sen. Skinner, SB 1227. That legislation expanded California’s density bonus law, which allows housing developers to build larger projects if they include affordable units, to include housing for college students. Specifically, SB 1227 requires cities and counties to grant a density bonus to housing projects when at least 20% of the total units are set aside for lower-income students.

However, even with SB 1227, California’s density bonus law remains underutilized. According to UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, less than half of California cities and counties have had a development project that used a density bonus, and most jurisdictions have had only one or two projects.

SB 290 is designed to expand the use of the density bonus law in order to create more affordable housing by providing further incentives to developers who build affordable units for low-income college students. It also streamlines the local approval process for density bonus housing projects and includes incentives for developers to build more for-sale housing for moderate-income Californians.


Sen. Nancy Skinner represents the 9th Senate District, is chair of the Senate Budget Committee and is vice chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus.