By David M. Greenwald
Those who are hopeful that local RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) requirements will be reined in have cited the fact that there cities are pushing back against the RHNA numbers.
One article, from January in the Orange County Register, was cited in particular.
“Faced with housing goals they say are unachievable and a fall deadline to plan for them, more Southern California cities than ever before are fighting to have their allocations of new homes rolled back,” the OC Register reported on January 9.
City leaders, the paper reports, “say the 1.34 million new units assigned to the six-county area (including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties) is wildly overinflated, and there’s no place in their communities to shoehorn the hundreds or thousands of additional homes they’re currently mandated to put in their plans.”
However, as is often the case, the commenter did not do any follow-up research on this. If they would have, they would have found that, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported this weekend, “Earlier this year, 47 cities and counties in Southern California appealed their allocation numbers. All the appeals were rejected. So far the courts have tossed out lawsuits filed against the state housing agency by jurisdictions objecting to their RHNA number.”
The problem is that California is facing a housing crisis and one of the reason for that crisis has been the failure of local jurisdictions to adequately plan and build housing.
The same thing is happening in Northern California as well, but a report Saturday in the San Francisco Chronicle, finds that protests are unlikely to be successful.
“Cities across the Bay Area are howling in protest over the ambitious housing production goals the state has imposed on them,” the Chronicle said. “But in a California political environment where the housing affordability crisis ranks at the top of the agenda, it’s unlikely that any of the protests will gain a sympathetic ear in Sacramento, according to experts.”
The Department of Housing has determined that 441 thousand housing units need to be produced by 2030, which is more than double the current RHNA cycle has allocated.
The report notes: “Some 28 Bay Area cities and counties have appealed the state’s efforts to dictate how much housing they will be required to approve over the next eight-year cycle — known as RHNA goals — citing everything from wildfire to flooding to a shrinking jobs base in their argument as to why they should not be on the hook for so much residential development.”
The Chronicle notes: “In many of the appeals the gap is extreme between the state’s mandated number and what the local jurisdiction thinks is fair and realistic. Sausalito, for example, is asking for an 83% reduction. Dublin, Danville, San Anselmo, Pleasant Hill and Ross are all looking for a decrease of more than 50%.”
Michael Lane, state policy director for the urban think tank SPUR, said he believes that all of these appeals or at least most of them will be rejected.
“I think it’s a political exercise as much as anything, to show the residents they are fighting,” Lane said.
“We are seeing the usual attempts to shift the burden on housing to lower-income communities and it’s not working this time around,” Lane said. “If you read the list of appellants it’s like a who’s-who of elite country club communities.”
Lane makes several critical points here.
First, the very communities whose practices led to this housing crisis are the very communities that are fighting this. That should come as no surprise. And it also should come as no surprise that, if they succeed, then California will never solve the housing crisis.
Second, the fight against new housing is being led primarily by people who already own their homes. Many of them have owned homes for decades—purchased at far lower prices than the market bears today.
I thought the most ironic comment of the week was from a poster who said: “And some wonder why people prefer single family homes to living in dense multi-stories with randos.”
This was with respect to a different issue but it illustrates the divide. Of course people, especially families, would personally prefer to live in single-family homes to dense multi-family housing. The problem isn’t preference—it’s ability to afford that kind of housing.
The cost of that housing has priced even relatively well-off families out of the housing market. And these kinds of policies and fighting new housing that would alleviate supply issues continue to lock in the problem.
One thing that is unique about the housing crisis—it really does have to be solved at the local level. The state can attempt to create incentives to build new housing. The state can attempt to sanction communities that fail to build adequate housing. But at the end of the day, local jurisdictions hold the key.
The housing crisis, unlike most problems in government today, must be addressed at the local level and someone is going to have to have to make uncomfortable choices. Otherwise, just throw your hands up on this.
As the Chronicle points out: “The difference is that this time around there is an awareness that two decades of underproduction of housing is making California unsustainable.”
“There is a reckoning in terms of all the housing we didn’t build over the last two decades,” Lane said. “The Legislature and the governor has gotten serious.”
We will see on that score.
—David M. Greenwald reporting