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The Regional Housing Allocation Legislation

The Regional Housing Allocation Legislation is an eight year housing regulations cycle in the Bay Area where the state insures that cities are progressing towards a listed guideline for improving California's housing crisis. Beyond affordable housing measures is the overarching goal of creating diversity in shelter and opportunities to accommodate as many individuals as possible.

By Emma Lin, Ananya Biswas, and Kelly Liu

Edited: Faith Qiao


The Problem

California has been historically known to have a housing shortage. The state has produced fewer housing units than the amount calculated to be necessary in order to accommodate its population and job growth. Since 2005, California has only added 308 units for every 1,000 new residents. In comparison, Texas, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, and New York all added 333, 386, 397, 409, 442, and 549 units for every 1,000 new residents, respectively.

To fix this issue, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) implemented a program called Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). ABAG also works with the Housing Methodology Committee (HMC). The committee advises ABAG staff in developing a RHNA plan for the 2023-2031 RHNA cycle such that allocations meet statutory requirements and are consistent with changes predicted in the development pattern of Plan Bay Area 2050. The committee’s roster consists of 38 total officials: 9 elected officials (at least one from each Bay Area County), 12 jurisdiction housing/planning staff (at least one from each Bay Area County), 16 regional stakeholders representing different perspectives, and 1 partner from the state government.

What is the RHNA?

ABAG conducts the RHNA process every eight years, in which RHNA is required to fulfill five statutory objectives:

  1. Increase housing supply and mix of housing types, with the goal of improving housing affordability and equity in all cities and counties within the region

  2. Promote infill development and socioeconomic equity, protect environmental and agricultural resources, encourage effective development patterns, and achieve greenhouse gas reduction targets

  3. Improve intra-regional jobs-to-housing relationship, including the balance between low-wage jobs and affordable housing for low-wage workers

  4. Balance disproportionate household income distributions

  5. Affirmatively further fair housing

While the first four objectives of the process are intuitive, the fifth isn’t. Put simply, it means to take meaningful actions to address significant disparities in housing needs and access to opportunity, replace segregated living patterns with integrated and balanced ones, transform racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty to areas of opportunity, and foster and maintain compliance with civil rights and fair housing laws.

The Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) gives ABAG predicted regional housing needs per income level through a developed process, which is then adjusted for factors like vacancy rate, overcrowding, and estimate for need for replacement housing units that were demolished/lost. The methodology for determining the Regional Housing Needs Determination and the predicted regional housing needs per income level for this RHNA cycle is below.

Responsibility for completion of RHNA is spread among state, regional, and local governments. The state government identifies the total number of homes for which each region of California must plan to meet. The regional governments allocate a share of the RHND for each local government in their respective region. Finally, the local governments participate in development of allocation methodology and update Housing Elements to reflect how they will accommodate their share of RHND.

Consequences of Non-compliance:

Governments can face serious consequences in the case they are found to be non-compliant with RNHA. Some such consequences are:

  1. Legal Suits & Attorney Fees

    1. Local governments with noncompliant housing elements are vulnerable to litigation from housing rights’ organizations, developers, and the HCD. Potential consequences of lawsuits include mandatory compliance within 120 days, suspension of local control on building matters, and court approval of housing developments

  2. Loss of permitting authority

    1. Court may suspend a locality’s authority to issue building permits or grant zoning changes, variances, or subdivision map approvals

  3. Financial penalties

    1. Courts can fine jurisdictions up to $100,000 a month, and if they are not paid, can multiply that by a factor of 6

  4. Court receivership

    1. Courts may appoint an agent with all powers necessary to remedy identified housing element deficiencies

  5. Streamlined ministerial approval process

    1. Proposed developments in localities that have not made sufficient progress toward their allocation of the RHND are now subject to less rigorous ministerial approvals to hasten the production of housing and bring a jurisdiction into compliance with its state-determined housing need allocation

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