California law requires that each county and city in the state develop and adopt a General Plan. Oakley’s General Plan is a comprehensive long-term plan for the physical development of the city. In this sense, it is a “blueprint” for development. The plan contains a description of current conditions and a collection of text and maps outlining goals, principles, policies, and implementation measures in a number of key subject areas known as Elements. Seven elements are currently mandated by California Government Code (Section 65000 et seq) and must be included. Jurisdictions may also include one or more additional optional elements if desired. Oakley has nine elements.
One of the mandated elements is the Housing Element. The Housing Element is used to show how the city plans to meet its share of the Bay Area’s housing needs. The Housing Element must provide evidence that zoning is in place to allow for the construction of housing units for all income groups within the city. The City is not required to actually produce the housing; merely, to show that it has been planned for.
The Housing Element is strictly regulated by State planning law and must be updated every five years. Housing element law also requires the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) review local housing elements for compliance with State law and provide certification. This ‘certification’ by HCD is important because it allows the City to be eligible for State housing funds that can be used for new workforce housing, and first time homebuyer and multifamily rehabilitation programs. Additionally, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA), as part of the County’s Growth Management Program, requires ‘certification’ of the Housing Element as a condition for receipt of jurisdictions’ share of local street maintenance funds under Measure J. Funds are allocated to cities and the County subject to submission of a statement of compliance by each local jurisdiction and a finding of compliance by CCTA.
When a jurisdiction’s Housing Element is found to be out of compliance with State law, its General Plan is at risk of being deemed inadequate, and therefore invalid. Because all planning and development decisions must be consistent with a valid General Plan, a local government with a non-compliant General Plan may not proceed to make land use decisions and approve development until it brings its General Plan—including its Housing Element—into compliance with State law. A Housing Element is considered out of compliance if: 1) It has not been revised and updated by the statutory deadline, or 2) its contents do not substantially comply with the statutory requirements. If a jurisdiction is ruled non-compliant it may be faced with a number of law suits.
Any discussion of the Housing Element requires “housing unit” to be defined: A housing unit may include a single family detached house. It may also be multiple family housing including condominiums, townhouses, and mobile homes as well as conventional apartments. It can even be a single room that is occupied as separate living quarters.
Other components in need of further understanding are income groups and affordability. Income groups are broken down by family income. The numbers below assume an average family size of four and the average family income or median income. Contra Costa’s median family income in 2012 for a family of four was $93,500.
Extremely Low $28,050 (under 30% of the median income)
Very low $28,050 – $46,750 (under 30% – 50% of the median income)
Low $46,750 – $65,350 (50-80% of the median income)
Moderate $65,350 – $112,200 (80 to 120% of the median income)
Above Moderate $112,200 and above(over 120% of the median income)
The income levels are established annually and revised periodically by The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Another important concept is afforadbaility. According to the federal government, housing is considered affordable if it costs no more than 30% of the monthly household income for mortgage or rent and utilities. If your household income is $60,000 a year, you should pay no more than $1500 monthly for your mortgage or rent and utilities. If you are in a retail sales or agriculture job, making $12.00 per hour, you should be paying no more than $624 a month in rent and utilities.
As stated previously the housing element must plan for adequate housing in the future and provide its “fair share” of projected regional housing needs. So, who and how are the fair share numbers arrived at? Every seven years HCD gives each region of the state a number representing the amount of housing needed, for all income groups, based on existing need and expected population growth. The fair share is determined by each region’s Council of Government (COG). Each COG is required by the State to create an allocation methodology that allocates a portion of the region’s housing need to each local jurisdiction and sets targets for developing homes that are affordable to people at all income levels. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) determines the regions fair share, through a process known as the Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNA). Once it receives its allocation, each jurisdiction must demonstrate how it will accommodate these units in the Housing Element of its General Plan.
The RHNA process requires jurisdiction to be accountable for ensuring that projected housing needs can be accommodated. However, it does not require that housing units are constructed by the local government. Each jurisdiction is only required to provide the appropriate zoning. The intent of the Housing Element law is that a jurisdiction not impede the construction of housing in any economic income category. Other factors, such as market forces, are well beyond a jurisdiction’s control and yield considerable influence over whether or not housing units in each income category are actually constructed.