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Demystifying the Housing Element Process to Move

Monterey Bay Region Forward on Housing Needs

It’s complicated, rather confusing, and incredibly critical: The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) / Housing Element process is a state-mandated undertaking that provides a blueprint for future housing development and growth, and it’s required of jurisdictions across California. The process of developing that plan, however, is laden with enough confusing acronyms and highly technical jargon to make one’s eyes glaze over.

That’s why MBEP has spent much of the past year laying the groundwork for greater public understanding and participation: A Housing Element webinar and a Housing Element Kickoff event earlier this year helped boost awareness, as do the comprehensive resources and online glossaries on MBEP’s website that explain the terminology and decipher the alphabet soup bowl of AFFH, COF, HCD, RHND, and other common acronyms, as well as offering valuable historical context and detailed ways to get involved and informed.

Updated every eight years, the Housing Element is a state-required document that is part of a jurisdiction’s General Plan, in response to a RHNA target set by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). Our region is now planning for the 6th Cycle Housing Element (spanning from 2023 to 2031), which is prepared by our two local Council of Governments – the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG), and the Council of San Benito County Governments (SBCOG). AMBAG prepares the RHNA plan for Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, while SBCOG prepares San Benito County’s RHNA plan.

As a result of legislation that has passed since the previous housing element cycle that has changed the formula HCD uses to determine a region’s housing need, there has been a threefold increase in regional housing targets all throughout the state – our region included. The final Regional Housing Need Determination (RHND) for AMBAG is 33,274 units across four income categories – very low (extremely-low units are included within this category), low, moderate, and above-moderate. When it comes to SBCOG, their final RHND for the 6th Cycle Housing Element is 5,005 units across the four income categories of very-low (extremely-low units are included within this category), low, moderate, and above-moderate.

For several months now, MBEP has convened a steering committee composed of local and regional stakeholders, focused primarily on developing recommendations that will serve to produce a fair and equitable methodology to distribute the RHND of 33,274 new homes throughout all jurisdictions within Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. One of the key issues in a region as diverse as ours is to balance housing to be directed in a manner that would further the state objective of affirmatively furthering fair housing all the while responding to the existing need of critical overcrowding many in our community face.

The Regional Housing Need Determination is more than just an overall number to be divvied up:  It also includes a percentage of units required in the four income categories described above, and the questions of designating those allocations carry the historical weight of redlining and racial covenants, of disproportionate NIMBYism in high-income, single-family neighborhoods, and much more.

Right now, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties are in the thick of it, says MBEP Housing Associate Elizabeth Madrigal. While the vote on approval of the draft RHNA methodology was originally going to take place at the Nov. 10 AMBAG Board of Directors meeting, it has been continued to a special meeting that will be taking place virtually on Dec. 8. Members of the public are encouraged to attend and provide public comments. Registration is required in advance.

The RHNA methodology established by AMBAG must address the housing demands of Monterey Bay residents, both existing and projected, as well as the unique issues we face, from adequately accounting for farmworker and hospitality service housing needs, to equitably planning for the future of our region. “The process our region is currently undertaking is to determine how the Regional Housing Need Determination is going to be allocated within every jurisdiction in the region,” says Madrigal. “We would like to see an equitable distribution of homes throughout our region, especially in areas which AMBAG has designated as Racially Concentrated Areas of Affluence.”

MBEP will be involved throughout the duration of the RHNA / Housing Element process and urges advocacy groups and community members to become involved in this undertaking that directly shapes the future of our region. To track advocacy efforts, sign up to become a Housing Element Watchdog! For questions, please contact Elizabeth Madrigal at emadrigal@mbep.biz.

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