State Guidelines and Requirements for Housing

The requirements for the Housing Element are established by the California Government Code (Sections 65580-65589.8). The State has established detailed standards for evaluating local housing needs, identifying potential housing sites, and evaluating obstacles to building housing. Cities are required to adopt policies and programs that respond to the findings of these studies, ultimately making it easier to build housing—especially for lower income households. Cities are also required to promote fair housing and anti-discrimination practices in the way housing is developed, sold, and rented.

As part of this process, each city and county is assigned a specific number of new housing units it must plan for. For the Bay Area as a whole, the total is 441,176 units for the 2023-2031 period. This is based on population projections, economic forecasts, and existing unmet need, as determined by the State of California. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has distributed this assignment to each jurisdiction in the region through a process known as the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA, pronounced “Reena”). San Rafael’s allocation for 2023-2031 is 3,220 units, including 1,349 units for low and very low income households. These households include teachers, nurses, child care workers, and thousands of service industry workers that call San Rafael home. The City itself doesn’t build housing for these residents—but it must provide ample opportunities for private and non-profit developers to do so.

Unlike other parts of the General Plan, the Housing Element must be certificated by a State agency—the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). Cities without HCD-certified Elements are ineligible for many state and regional grants, face costly lawsuits, and may even be threatened by loss of control over local building decisions. The City of San Rafael worked closely with HCD throughout this process to ensure that the new Element was certified. Our 2023-2031 Housing Element builds on the prior Element, which was certified in 2015. Some of the existing policies and programs were carried forward. New programs were added to respond to new issues and community input.

While it is required by the State, the Housing Element is also a local document with a local impact. It is a chance for residents and the City to think strategically, and to plan for housing in ways that strengthen our neighborhoods and protect the environment. It is also an opportunity to be more equitable and inclusive, recognizing the diverse needs of our community and engaging more of our San Rafael neighbors in conversations about our future.

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