RHNA numbers mean housing is coming

By Heather Bailey, Senior Editor, SoCoNews, July 8, 2021


Bay Area cities, towns and counties will have new housing unit allocations to hit in coming years, or the state will come in and do it for them.

On May 20, 2021, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) Executive Board approved the Final Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) Methodology, as well as draft housing unit allocations for jurisdictions throughout the state.

ABAG’s draft sets the goal numbers, and while governing bodies still have the ability to appeal them through the end of the year, it is unlikely to be successful.

Bay Area allocations

For the eight-year period covering 2023 through 2031, HCD has determined that the Bay Area’s RHNA is 441,176 housing units. By contrast, the Bay Area’s RHNA for the current eight-year period ending in 2022 was 187,990 units. This represents an increase of almost 135%, which is reflective of the state’s dire housing crisis and is consistent with the increases seen in other parts of the state and is based on population projections. Of those 441,176 units, 114,442 (25.9%) must be very low-income units, 65,892 (14.9%) must be low-income units, 72,712 (16.5%) must be moderate income units and 188,130 (42.6%) must be above moderate income units.

Breaking down allocations in Sonoma County

Despite the regional nature of the Housing Methodology Committee (HMC), the plan utilized to identify potential building sites, Plan Bay Area 2050, makes assumptions about appropriate sites for high-density housing. In Sonoma County, some of the assumptions include several inappropriate locations such as flood plains, rural recreational land, industrial land and land in areas at high risk of wildfires.

Using these assumptions has resulted in the rural agricultural parts of the North Bay receiving high projected RHNA allocations that push growth outside of city and town limits and into areas without utilities or other services.

This is especially problematic in Sonoma County, where all local governments have voter-approved Urban Growth Boundaries (UGB’s) intended to focus housing growth within city and town limits while preventing sprawl in the unincorporated county.

Between January and April, ABAG reevaluated some of its numbers and made changes based on those evaluations. However, changing one allocation means those units must be added elsewhere, because the overall number won’t change.

As a result, some areas got good news and lower allocations, while others are facing higher numbers than before.

In unincorporated Sonoma County, the initial proposed increase was 919%, from 515 to 5,250, but in the May report, that number has dropped to 3,881, which is still an increase of 653.59%.

Local municipalities also saw changes.

Cloverdale received a reduction from its original number, with its initial proposed increase at 211 to 300, an increase of 42%, but the May report shows the allocation at 278, an increase of 31.75%.

Healdsburg initially had a proposed increase of 157 to 350 (123%), but the latest draft shows the new final allocation as 476, an increase of 203.18%.

Sebastopol also saw a drop in its numbers, with an initial proposed change of 120 to 420, an increase of 250% being dropped to a final allocation of 213, an increase of 77.5%.

Windsor had an initial proposed allocation rise from 440 to 710, an increase of 61%, but in the May draft its allocation is set at 994, an increase of 125.90%.

Within those overall numbers, the allocations are as follows:

  • Unincorporated Sonoma County: very low income, 1,036; low income, 596, moderate income, 627; and above moderate income, 1,622.
  • Healdsburg: very low income, 190; low income, 109; moderate income, 49; and above moderate income, 128.
  • Windsor: Very Low Income, 385; Low Income, 222; Moderate Income, 627; and Above Moderate Income, 1,622.
  • Cloverdale: Very Low Income, 74; Low Income, 43, Moderate Income, 45; and Above Moderate Income, 116.
  • Sebastopol: Very Low Income, 55; Low Income, 31, Moderate Income, 35; and Above Moderate Income, 92.

 What happens if the numbers aren’t met?

According to ABAG, a community feeling it is “built out” is not an excuse not to meet its numbers.

“Large and small communities throughout the Bay Area have successfully identified under-utilized, infill sites for housing development. In past RHNA cycles, numerous Bay Area communities were able to meet their housing allocation exclusively through the identification of infill sites to provide for future housing needs. Encouraging the development of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) is another strategy many Bay Area communities have used to add more housing choices for residents,” it said.

But if they still don’t meet their numbers, what penalties await a jurisdiction?

According to ABAG, the state requires planning — in the form of having a compliant housing element and submitting housing element annual progress reports — as a threshold or points-related requirement for certain funding programs.

HCD may also refer jurisdictions to the state attorney general if they do not have a compliant housing element, fail to comply with their HCD-approved housing element or violate housing element law, the housing accountability act, density bonus law, no net loss law or land use discrimination law.

The consequences of those cases brought by the attorney general are up to the courts, but can include significant financial penalties. Court-issued judgments can direct the jurisdiction to bring its housing element into compliance with state housing element law. If a jurisdiction’s housing element continues to be found out of compliance, courts can multiply financial penalties by a factor of six.

In addition, as the housing element is one of the required components of the general plan, a jurisdiction without a compliant housing element, may risk legal challenges to their general plan from interested parties outside of HCD. Local governments with an invalid general plan can no longer make permitting decisions.

Local governments must also implement their commitments from the housing element, and the statute has several consequences for the lack of implementation. For example, failure to rezone in a timely manner may impact a local government’s land use authority and result in a carryover of RHNA to the next cycle. Failure to implement programs can also influence future housing element updates and requirements, such as program timing. HCD may investigate any action or lack of action in the housing element.

For jurisdictions that did not issue permits for enough housing to keep the pace consistent with RHNA building goals, a developer can elect to use a ministerial process to get project approval for residential projects that meet certain conditions. This, in effect, makes it easier to build housing in places that are not on target to meet their building goals. In other words, if a town, city or county is not meeting its RHNA numbers, it may lose legislative authority over new construction projects.

Courts also have the authority to take local government residential and nonresidential permit authority to bring the jurisdiction’s General Plan and housing element into compliance with state law. The court may suspend the locality’s authority to issue building permits or grant zoning changes, variances, or subdivision map approvals – giving local governments a strong incentive to bring its housing element into compliance.

 Next Steps

Following approval of the final RHNA methodology and release of the draft allocations, ABAG will conduct the required appeals process during summer/fall 2021. State law allows a local government or HCD to appeal any local government’s draft allocation.

ABAG will conduct a public hearing to consider the

appeals and comments received. After ABAG makes a final determination on each appeal and redistributes units among jurisdictions in the region as necessary, it will adopt the final allocation plan, currently slated for the end of 2021. Once each jurisdiction receives its RHNA allocation, it must revise its housing element by January 2023 to show how it plans to accommodate its portion of the Bay Area’s housing need.

Key dates in the appeals process include:

  •  July 9, 2021: deadline for jurisdictions or HCD to submit an appeal of a jurisdiction’s draft allocation.
  •  Aug. 30, 2021: deadline for comments on appeals submitted.
  •  September and/or October: ABAG conducts public hearing to consider appeals and comments received.”

As noted previously, ABAG-MTC will also continue discussions with local jurisdictions about opportunities to direct additional RHNA units from unincorporated counties to incorporated areas, including the use of the provisions in Housing Element Law that allow a county transfer a portion of its RHNA allocation to a city or town after it receives its RHNA allocation from ABAG.

Click to read the entire Final Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) Methodology and Draft Allocations.

This article was produced by SoCoNews. See more news at soconews.org