A Giant Step Toward Ending Homelessness In California

Becker Legislation Makes It Easier For Cities To Put Up “Opportunity Homes”

SACRAMENTO — State Senator Josh Becker (D-San Mateo), together with the nonprofit housing developer DignityMoves today announced the introduction of SB 634 co-sponsored by SPUR and Bay Area Council to make it easier to deploy “opportunity” housing units – relocatable housing placed on unused land – that can be used to house tens of thousands of low-income and homeless Californians. 

Challenge: Traditional housing in California takes a long time to build and is very expensive. Many local governments are working hard, but they face massive challenges to building sufficient amounts of housing, especially for very low-income households. Meanwhile, public entities have thousands of parcels of excess land that isn’t being used. 

Solution: “Opportunity” housing is an innovative solution that takes advantage of vacant land to build relocatable housing units. This model is already working in cities like Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and Rohnert Park. SB 634 makes this type of housing easier and faster to scale statewide, and will pave the way for large amounts of new housing by asking public entities to make unused land available for what California desperately needs – more low-income housing.

“Opportunity housing is the most hopeful development I’ve seen to not just address, but actually put an end to our homelessness crisis at scale and with speed,” said State Senator Josh Becker. “My goal is to get tens of thousands of people off the street in the next few years and I’m confident we will do that.”

“There is a missing rung on the housing ladder: nothing exists between shelter and ‘affordable’ housing,” said Elizabeth Funk, CEO of DignityMoves. “The overwhelmingly positive response to our first few opportunity communities has made us think what more this model could do to provide desperately needed housing to low-income households in the state. We’re proud to work with Senator Becker to advance this legislation.”

Some of the biggest barriers to solving homelessness and our housing shortage in California are  addressed by SB 634:

  • Land costs: There are very few productive uses for land that is only available for a few years. Because opportunity housing units can be easily moved, they can be built on public or private land that will be used for something else in the future and therefore isn’t suitable for permanent development. 
  • Building costs: Using innovative prefabricated and modular construction, relocatable housing can be built quickly and inexpensively while meeting the state building standards for temporary housing that ensure high-quality and safety. Further, philanthropy and private financing not normally available for permanent housing can fund these significantly less expensive projects.
  • Permitting: Because units are in place temporarily, “opportunity” housing does not have a permanent impact on zoning or environmental standards and can benefit from a wide range of process exemptions and massively streamlined approvals. A DignityMoves project in San Francisco received final permit approvals in less than 3 weeks – a remarkably short amount of time for a housing project of any kind.
  • Unused Federal Housing Vouchers: There are around 45,000 unused federal housing vouchers being wasted in California because the state doesn’t have enough affordable homes. These “opportunity” housing units could put that money to work and more importantly get 45,000 households off the streets. 

Currently, “opportunity” housing has been successful as a non-congregate alternative to emergency shelter and some people prefer it to living alone in a traditional apartment. By validating “opportunity” units as “housing” and not exclusively shelter, residents could choose this as a mid-term housing option while more permanent housing is built in California. 


Jim Wunderman, President & CEO of Bay Area Council:

“California’s high cost of land and construction are causing the state to fall farther behind in the fight against homelessness. Sen. Josh Becker’s SB 634 is a game changer that will help bring down costs and expedite the construction of scalable, high-quality opportunity housing to meet the needs of very low-income households. We’re proud to partner with DignityMoves and SPUR to co-sponsor Sen. Becker’s legislation.”

Michael Lane, State Policy Director of SPUR:

“We need a comprehensive and compassionate response to homelessness in California that can deliver results. Opportunity housing is a key part of that response that gets people living outdoors and in makeshift and dangerous encampments into safe and secure conditions expeditiously. SB 634 will allow attractive and cost-effective interim housing communities to be built in a matter of months and rapidly provide decent homes for people experiencing homelessness.”

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams:

“Opportunity housing has already been a success in Santa Barbara County, where we are developing more than 300 units to more than close our existing shelter gap county-wide. But with changes in state law, this model of developing moveable homes on unused land can provide local governments a powerful new tool to house tens of thousands of people throughout the state."

Rob Fredericks, Executive Director/CEO of the Santa Barbara Housing Authority:

“There are between 40,000 and 50,000 unused housing vouchers in California right now that aren’t being used due to the shortage of suitable units and landlords willing to accept them. Provided they meet the housing quality standards designated by HUD, these units would be an excellent way to put them to use. Residents could use those vouchers to stay in an Opportunity housing community for as long as it is in place, and take their time to find a more permanent apartment when they are ready to do so. When the community needs to be relocated, the resident could move with it if they choose.”

Clay Grubb, Grubb Properties, a housing developer:

“Funding traditional housing projects requires complex government financial structures like low-income tax credits. The relatively low cost of this model makes it possible to fund with private capital, without detracting scarce resources from the traditional permanent housing programs that need them.”

About DignityMoves:

DignityMoves is reimagining solutions to homelessness and the housing crisis using innovative approaches that are rapid, cost-effective, and thus truly scalable. By applying private-sector, Silicon Valley-style disruptive approaches, in just 18 months DignityMoves has built communities in San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Rohnert Park housing over 210 people and has over 15 projects under construction or in planning.  The DignityNOW initiative is literally building interim housing for everyone unsheltered across the County of Santa Barbara in one comprehensive initiative.

About Bay Area Council:

The Bay Area Council is a business-sponsored, public-policy advocacy organization for the nine-county Bay Area. The Council proactively advocates for a strong economy, a vital business environment, and a better quality of life for everyone who lives here. Founded in 1945, the Bay Area Council is widely respected by elected officials, policy makers and other civic leaders as the voice of Bay Area business. Today, approximately 300 of the largest employers in the region support the Bay Area Council and offer their CEO or top executive as a member. Our members employ more than 4.43 million workers and have revenues of $1.94 trillion, worldwide. Learn more at www.bayareacouncil.org.

About SPUR:

SPUR is a nonprofit public policy organization in the San Francisco Bay Area.  It brings people together from across the political spectrum to develop solutions to the big problems cities face. Through research, education and advocacy, SPUR works to create an equitable, sustainable and prosperous region and state.


Additional Resources:

Press Contact: Evan Goldberg at Evan.Goldberg@sen.ca.gov