Under California law, a local government’s General Plan must include an affordable housing action plan. That plan, called the “Housing Element,” must detail a concrete “program of actions” the local government commits to carry out so that its fair share of new housing affordable at all income levels can be built. These actions help ensure that low-income families are not excluded from opportunities in more affluent communities, while at the same time promoting economic and environmental sustainability throughout the region.
Public Advocates’ Housing Element advocacy focuses both on the basic requirements of state housing laws and on the individualized local needs in each community. We work with local affordable housing developers and community advocates to develop tailored policies designed to address the most pressing barriers to affordable housing in a particular city. In one place, the main issue may be burdensome parking requirements that make affordable housing construction too expensive. In another, affordable housing developers may need help aggregating small infill development sites into parcels large enough to build on.
Public Advocates has a long history of enforcing and strengthening California’s Housing Element requirements through both litigation and coalition work, including:
A 2010 victory in Urban Habitat v. City of Pleasanton
Our support to local housing advocates in the City of Alameda,
The 2012 settlement of Peninsula Interfaith Action v. City of Menlo Park.
Other Housing Element advocacy has spanned the Bay Area from Gilroy to Pittsburg, Palo Alto to Marin.
Recognition of the critical need for affordable housing in California is spreading. For a long time, it was primarily advocates for social equity and racial justice who supported the efforts of non-profit affordable housing developers with a goal of combating segregation and making suburban opportunities available to all. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the business community increasingly came to see the dramatic ill-effects on economic sustainability of inadequate workforce housing. And environmental advocates have also begun emphasizing the important role that vibrant, mixed-income communities, along with revitalized public transit, will play in turning back the catastrophic impacts of auto-driven climate change.
Working with East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), the California Affordable Housing Law Project, and other local organizations, we helped ensure that Concord, the largest city in Contra Costa County, adopted a revised housing element in 2010 that both created meaningful opportunities for affordable housing development and complied with state law. We gave extensive formal and informal input to the city and to State reviewers over more than two years from September of 2008 through late 2010. Among other things, we:
Pressed for the inclusion of a strong Affordable Housing Overlay Zone that will incentivize affordable housing development and allow nonprofit developers to compete in a competitive real estate market,
Pointed out the need for a program to help aggregate small sites to make them feasible for affordable housing development,
Stressed the need to complete rezoning that was left undone during the previous Housing Element period.
Our Housing Element work complements our work on the Concord Naval Weapons Station, ensuring adequate affordable housing opportunities throughout the city in the coming decades.
In July 2012, Concord implemented the Housing Element’s “Affordable Housing Overlay Zone” program by incorporating an Affordable Housing Incentive Program into its zoning code. The program provides strong zoning incentives to developers of affordable housing, reflecting the input of Public Advocates and our close ally, EBHO.
As part of the settlement of Urban Habitat v. City of Pleasanton, the City agreed to complete its Housing Element update within one year. We are monitoring this process and providing support to Citizens for a Caring Community, Urban Habitat, EBHO and other groups working on the ground to make sure the City adopts a strong Housing Element that creates meaningful opportunities for affordable housing development.
City Releases Draft Affordable Housing Overlay Zone Policy
September 24, 2012—
HCD Considers Streamlining Housing Element Review
Public Advocates has partnered with affordable housing allies from around the state to give the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) input on its proposal to streamline its review of local Housing Elements.
Our comments on housing element letter provided practical suggestions for reducing administrative burdens on both cities and HCD while preserving all statutory requirements. This letter reinforces our work at the local and regional levels to ensure that all cities do their fair share to meet the housing needs of very-low and low income people.