Every seven to eight years, the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process is used to assign each city and county in California their “fair share” of new housing units to build. These homes are intended to accommodate existing need and projected growth in the region. The RHNA process is critical because it requires all cities and counties to plan for the housing needs of their residents, at all income levels, in an effort to plan for future growth and ease the Bay Area’s acute housing crisis. The planning portion of the next RHNA cycle is already in progress, and will cover the 8.5-year period between June 30, 2023 and December 15, 2031.
Unfortunately, many cities and counties regularly fall short of their RHNA targets, as the Bay Area’s housing crisis continues to grow. Each spring, jurisdictions are required to provide an Annual Progress Report to show how effective their efforts have been in achieving housing development targets by income level. You can view the progress of your local jurisdiction HERE and compare with the RHNA progress of other Santa Clara County jurisdictions.
New Laws Impacting Housing Elements
This time around, there have been changes in the process and housing law that will make this a lot more challenging for city staff than it has been in the past. Staff, consultants, and council will need more support. In addition to much bigger housing targets:
- Staff will have to plan for units and affordability. They’ll have to identify which sites in the site inventory will hold their low-income housing units, and show that development and site capacity is feasible
- The No Net Loss law means that Staff will have to overplan. If any site is developed with fewer units or higher affordability than it was planned for, there has to always be enough planned capacity to hold whatever is left of the RHNA
- They have to affirmatively further fair housing, and show that lower-income sites are located equitably in the city.
- HCD can now monitor, enforce, and de-certify cities’ housing elements mid-cycle, and if that happens, anything with at least 20% affordability becomes by-right
Staff and councils will need to have a clear-eyed view of their challenges and obligations, and they’re likely to face a lot of opposition from residents. Housing advocates will need to be involved at every step of the process with staff, consultants, and council to make sure we have good, compliant Housing Elements with as strong a chance as possible for success. Learn more about New Laws Impacting the Housing Element.
Understanding Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing
New to this planning cycle, local jurisdictions must demonstrate that they are using their Housing Element to combat discrimination, overcome existing patterns of segregation, and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics such as race and ethnicity. HCD has recently released comprehensive guidance on how cities must incorporate the law, known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), into their Housing Element.
Using fair housing metrics to allocate the Bay Area’s total housing need will help advance the AFFH mandate and create housing opportunities in resource-rich communities, many of which have a legacy of exclusion that must be overcome. Promoting greater housing opportunities in these neighborhoods helps advance regional priorities such as economic mobility, public health, and improved educational outcomes. This metric should be used to choose sites for all income levels, not just the low-income share of housing need, to ensure that more housing of all types is built where it is needed most. In this way, allocation based on access to high opportunity areas can also advance the requirement to increase housing supply & mix of housing types across all jurisdictions in an equitable way.
An easy way for advocates to check to see if housing of all income levels is distributed equitable throughout the community is to find sites in the Housing Element Site Inventory on the State’s Opportunity Maps. Planning lower-income homes for high-resource areas also helps them qualify for important access to LIHTC financing.
Policies to consider in your advocacy
One request we’ve heard from you is for a list of suggested policies you can advocate to be included in your city’s Housing Element. As part of HCD’s guidance memo on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, they have released a list of Examples of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Actions. This is a great place to start for policy priorities for you or your organization! Suggested policies center on:
- Housing Mobility Strategies: removing barriers to housing in areas of opportunity and strategically enhancing access
- New Housing Choices and Affordability in Areas of Opportunity: promoting housing supply, choices and affordability in areas of high opportunity, outside areas of concentrated poverty
- Place-based Strategies to Encourage Community Conservation and Revitalization: conserving and improving assets in areas of lower opportunity and concentrated poverty such as targeted investment in neighborhood revitalization, preserving or rehabilitating existing affordable housing, improving infrastructure, schools, employment, parks, transportation and other community amenities
- Protecting Existing Residents from Displacement: protecting residents in areas of lower or moderate opportunity and concentrated poverty and preserving housing choices and affordability
How to Give Public Comments for Fair Housing Elements (YIMBY)
New to giving public comment in support of housing at meetings? This helpful guide from CA YIMBY gives you specific examples on what to say by topic, including housing for racial equity, housing for economic opportunity, and housing for sustainable communities. This is a great way to get engaged quickly!
If you are new to making public comments, we highly recommend the monthly YIMBY Action Public Comment Workshop scheduled for Tuesday October 26 at 5:00 pm PT.
Advocacy Letter Templates
Don’t have time to write a letter? Start with one of these template letters and just fill in a few blanks! (Open the link, the click File> Download, or simply copy and paste into your own document to edit.)
More letter templates to come!
Did your jurisdiction appeal their Draft RHNA Allocation?
FINAL! On November 12, 2021, the ABAG Administrative Committee ratified a written final determination on each appeal. The Committee denied all appeals submitted by local jurisdictions, with the exception of the appeal submitted by the County of Contra Costa, which resulted only in small adjustments to the final allocations for Contra Costa County and Pittsburg. Many thanks to all of you who weighed in to support a fair share of housing responsibility for every Santa Clara County jurisdiction!
As many of you know, six jurisdictions in Santa Clara County have appealed their draft RHNA allocations (asked for reductions in the number of homes they’re responsible to plan for over the next eight years): Palo Alto, Los Altos, Saratoga, Los Altos Hills, Monte Sereno, and Unincorporated Santa Clara County (areas of the county that are not part of any city). You can see the reasons these jurisdictions gave for appeal and read their letters of appeal at this fantastic RHNA Appeals Airtable curated by the Campaign for Fair Housing Elements. So many of our members submitted comment letters to ABAG on these appeals – thank you for your great advocacy! You can read the comment letters here. The ABAG Administrative Board will hold public hearings to consider appeals and comments for Santa Clara County jurisdictions on Friday, October 22, 2021, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (accessible via Zoom or in person at 375 Beale St, San Francisco).
Housing Needs Analysis by Jurisdiction
State law requires local jurisdictions to analyze their communities’ housing needs and resources available to address them. ABAG/MTC has compiled demographic, economic, and housing stock data required by HCD for each Bay Area jurisdiction so that local planning staff can focus on developing meaningful policies and programs. The data packets include some data related to the state’s requirement to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH), and additional AFFH data products will be released in summer 2021.
What makes a site unrealistic? AKA “Ground Truthing for Busy People”
Sometimes cities choose sites to accommodate their RHNA that are unlikely to be developed- sometimes unlikely for very obvious reasons! Whether the bad sites are chosen in honest error or ill intent, they will not lead to the construction of housing and are not in compliance with the law. Once your city begins to choose sites for the inventory, you can easily use Google Maps and Street View to see what’s happening at these sites- and often catch errors. Check out the sites a housing advocate found in San Diego’s Housing Element site inventory, as well as an explanation of why each site is unlikely to be developed! If you need to search for a site address by Assessor Parcel Number (APN), you can use the search function in this map from the Santa Clara County’s Department of Planning and Development– just choose APN from the dropdown menu in the search box at the top right corner.
Deep Dive: An Explainer & Audit Tool for the Housing Element (YIMBY)
This Explainer – which we call the “HEAT Sheet” – outlines several key topics of housing elements which carry legal weight and are top priority for housing advocates. Housing elements are both analytical and programmatic documents. The analytical side is supposed to reveal problems with the city’s housing stock and housing policies. The programmatic side is supposed to commit the city to fixing those problems in specific ways. A housing element must show how the city will accommodate its share of regional housing need allocation (“RHNA”) in each of four income categories: housing for very low-income, low-income, moderate-income, and above moderate-income households. A housing element must also affirmatively further fair housing, opening up neighborhoods from which lower-income and minority households have historically been excluded. Last, a housing element must mitigate or remove constraints to the development of housing at all levels of affordability.
Ready for a deep dive? Our friends at the Campaign for Fair Housing Elements have curated an incredible Resource Library with explainers, legislation memos, data, and more!
You can also register with them to receive updates on Housing Element actions happening in your city!
Additional letter templates
Training materials and workshops:
Giving Public Comment
Responding to NIMBY Talking Points
Greatest Hits: Key Solutions
Understanding Realistic Site Capacity