Gov. Newsom Signs Sen. Skinner’s Density Housing Bill, SB 290

September 28, 2021

California Gov. Gavin Newsom today signed 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 governor signed SB 290 as part of a package of 27 housing bills that he approved at an event in Oakland.

“These new housing laws open the door for thousands more housing units at every affordability level and include measures to help hold local governments accountable. Together, plus the unprecedented $24-plus billion the governor and Legislature put in the budget for housing, shows that California is the national leader in the effort to build housing for all,” said Sen. Skinner, D-Berkeley. “And my bill, SB 290, gives housing developers more incentives to build affordable units for low-income college students, many of whom now are homeless or living in their cars.”

On Aug. 30, the Senate approved SB 290 on a bipartisan vote of 32-4 in favor of SB 290, after the state Assembly OK’d it 66-1. SB 290 takes effect Jan. 1, 2022.

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 will 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.