Under California law, every city and county is required to adopt a General Plan outlining anticipated growth, how that growth will occur, and what policies the jurisdiction plans to adopt to adequately plan for this growth.  One of the required elements of the General Plan is the Housing Element.

What is a Housing Element?

The State requires that every jurisdiction plan for existing and projected housing needs for all economic segments of the community.  Updated every seven to eight years, the Housing Element must identify adequate sites for housing for all housing types (including emergency shelters, rental housing, and ownership housing). The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) has the responsibility for determining compliance and conformance with State law.

It is important to note that the Housing Element is a planning document.  It does not have “teeth,” that require that homes are actually constructed.  However, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) regularly reports on jurisdictions’ performance in approving new housing development, and recent legislation SB 828 is beginning to strengthen Housing Element Law to ensure that housing is actually built. Some State and regional transportation programs, like the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s One Bay Area Grant Program (OBAG), require that jurisdictions be in compliance with Housing Element Law in order to be eligible for funding.

Regional Housing Needs Allocation

Based on population data projected by the State Department of Finance, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) develops and assigns Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNA) to Bay Area cities and counties.  These RHNA numbers are allocated to ensure that each jurisdiction accommodates its “fair share” of future housing needs by income level (i.e., VLI, LI, Mod and Above-Mod).  Housing Elements must reflect these RHNA numbers.  Current RHNA allocations for Santa Clara County jurisdictions can be found in Cities and Public Agencies.

Required Elements of a Housing Element

Housing Elements must include:

  • An analysis of the jurisdiction’s demographic profile, including such issues as age of the population, household sizes, growth trends, owners vs. renters, poverty rates, overcrowding, and groups with special housing needs
  • An analysis of the existing housing stock, including age by housing type, housing costs, and affordability and rent burdens
  • A recognition of the RHNA goals for the upcoming cycle as well as reporting on how well the jurisdiction did in meeting the goals of the prior RHNA cycle
  • Any constraints on new housing development, both governmental (such as zoning, design review and Building Code standards, as well as the development review process), non-governmental (such as the price of land, cost of construction, availability of financing), and environmental hazards and limitations
  • Availability of resources to finance the development of affordable housing
  • Availability of sites for housing development, including a specific inventory of such sites
  • A policy framework for promoting new housing development to meet the quantified RHNA goals, potential reductions in governmental constraints, and preserving the existing housing stock.

SV@Home has adopted a twelve-point list of criteria for local jurisdictions to include when drafting and adopting Housing Elements. Read more here.

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