For HAC, the year 2031 is significant. As Northern California enters a new RHNA cycle, the question at the top of our minds is, in eight years, will cities, towns, and counties across the state meet their state-mandated housing goals? It’s more than fair to ask the question because for decades Housing Elements have been more of an idealistic dream than a realistic expectation. Every eight years the state would “mandate” cities to increase their housing supply, and every eight years a majority of California cities would build only a fraction of the number of homes the state expected them to build. The state did nothing in response.
However, this cycle is different. As California’s housing shortage reaches a crisis level, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) has raised its standards as it looks to hold cities accountable for not only submitting good-faith housing plans but actually implementing them. Across the Bay Area and California, cities like Palo Alto, Santa Monica, and San Jose have had their Housing Elements rejected because they failed to meet HCD’s standards.
Over the past couple of months, HAC has played the role of intermediary between local governments and HCD. As we strive to help cities reach their state-mandated housing goals, we have worked with both compliant and non-compliant cities to advance their eight-year housing plans.
For cities that have yet to submit a state-approved Housing Element, we are applying pressure on decision makers to ensure they’re working towards submitting a credible housing plan. Specifically, we have made it a priority to closely evaluate Housing Elements drafts and review whether the inventory lists are accurate, the constraints are properly identified, and the fee structures are financially feasible. For example, last month, the City of Sunnyvale’s Housing Element was rejected after HAC raised feasibility concerns to HCD around Sunnyvale’s exorbitant fee package. Our ultimate goal is for California to meet its goal of building 2.5 million new homes by 2031. The only way we’re going to accomplish that is by putting pressure on local governments to take the Housing Element process far more seriously than they have in the past.
Once a city’s Housing Element is approved and adopted the hard part of the process begins: implementation. The months of drafting and revising housing plans are a waste if the plan is never put into action. Rather than allowing Housing Elements to remain a theoretical exercise, HAC has been working with cities to identify what needs to be done in order to execute their eight-year housing plan. For most cities, this involves amending existing laws or enacting new legislation that makes it easier to build. In San Francisco for example, we’ve led efforts to support the passage of the ‘Constraints Removal” legislation, which has a hearing later in September. While progress in San Francisco has been promising, we don’t expect implementation across the Bay Area to be a walk in the park. As the year rolls on, we plan to continue to evaluate cities to ensure they’re taking the requisite steps that will allow their Housing Element to be successfully implemented. For the cities that don’t, HAC will notify HCD and see that those cities face the consequences for not building their fair share of housing.
These next eight years could be a watershed moment for housing in California. As HAC strives to advance pro-housing progress, we need support from our members to help guide our advocacy. What are you seeing on the ground? Where can improvements be made? Where are cities ignoring state law? We can’t monitor the actions of every single city, so if you see something, say something. Coalition is a part of our name for a reason. If California is going to build 2.5 million new homes over the next years we need as many pro-housing advocates as possible.