San Rafael Housing Element Process

About the San Rafael 2023-2031 Housing Element Process

More than five decades ago, the State legislature declared that providing safe, decent housing for all Californians was a matter of vital statewide importance.  Since 1969, each city and county in the state has been required to prepare a Housing Element showing how the community will help achieve this goal.  The Housing Element is part of the General Plan, the policy document guiding our long-term growth and development.  The Element presents the City’s strategy for meeting its housing needs and addressing local housing issues such as high costs, lack of supply, overcrowding, and homelessness.

San Rafael’s existing Housing Element was adopted in January 2015.  The State of California requires a comprehensive update every eight years to respond to changing demographics, market conditions, and new State laws.  All 101 cities and nine counties in the San Francisco Bay Area must adopt updated Housing Elements by January 2023.  The new Element will guide housing decisions through 2031.

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 will be working closely with HCD throughout this process to ensure that the new Element is certified.  Our new Housing Element will build on the existing Element, which was certified in 2015.  Some of the existing policies and programs will be carried forward.  New programs will be 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.

Housing Element Working Group

The City of San Rafael has created a 13-member Working Group to provide feedback on new housing policies and programs for the city. Information on upcoming and past meetings is provided on the Meetings & Events page. The meetings use a webinar format, with Working Group members on screen.  The public participates as "attendees" and provides feedback during a designated Public Comment period.  For a list of Housing Element Working Group members, click here.

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