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The Housing Element

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.

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 that will guide housing decisions through 2031.

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About the 2023-2031 San Rafael Housing Element

The 2023-2031 San Rafael Housing Element has been certified!   A link to the certification letter is provided below.  Links to the final version of the adopted document are included following the next paragraph (May 15 Adopted Housing Element, with 6/7/23 Revisions)

On May 15, 2023 the San Rafael City Council adopted the 2023-2031 Housing Element.   The adopted document was submitted for State certification on May 17, 2023.  On June 1, 2023, the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) contacted the City and requested minor revisions to Programs 11 and 44 in the adopted document.  These revisions were made and a revised document was published on June 7, 2023.  Links to the final version of the Housing Element are provided below.  Both a "clean" version and a "tracked change" version are included.

The tracked change version shows all edits to the document made after HCD issued its official findings on the Draft document on March 20, 2023.   A link to HCD's findings letter is provided below.   The second link below shows the City's responses to each comment. The comments are numbered for ease of reference--the numbers also appear in the Tracked Change document linked above.

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.

Links to earlier versions of the Housing Element are provided below, along with a timetable of activities:

On May 10, the City published an “Adoption Draft” 2023-2031 Housing Element for consideration by the City Council.  The Council adopted the document “as is” with no additional edits.    A clean copy and tracked change version appear below.

On April 20, the City published a Planning Commission “Adoption Draft” for consideration by the Planning Commission.  The Commission recommended that the Council adopt the document “as is” with no additional edits.  A clean copy and tracked change version appear below.

The Planning Commission and City Council action also included approval of an Addendum to the General Plan EIR, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  The Addendum evaluates the potential environmental impacts of the proposed Housing Element.  A link is provided below.

Addendum to General Plan EIR

Both the April and May versions of the Housing Element incorporated revisions to a “Working Draft” Housing Element published in November 2022 and revised in December 2022. The April and May revisions responded to findings by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) in its review of the December Draft, as well as public comments.

Earlier versions of the Draft 2023-2031 Housing Element may be viewed below:

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

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