Sacramento dealt a blow to Beverly Hills on Jan. 14 when it declined to certify the city’s housing element, according to a letter from the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). The city now must make revisions to its housing element and resubmit it, or else risk falling into noncompliance with state law.
While the city’s housing element, adopted by the City Council on Oct. 12, “addresses most statutory requirements,” HCD determined that “additional revisions are necessary to fully comply with State Housing Element Law,” HCD Senior Program Manager Paul McDougall wrote to the city.
The letter warns that “[s]everal federal, state, and regional funding programs consider housing element compliance as an eligibility or ranking criteria.”
Every eight years since 1969, the state has required local governments to adopt a housing element as a part of its general plan. The comprehensive document anticipates the changing housing needs of the community and lays out a framework for how to accommodate them.
As a part of the housing element process, local governments receive an estimation of the number of housing units necessary to keep pace with trends. HCD first determines the housing needs in each region, called the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). That number gets passed to local regional planning agencies and then distributed among local governments.
Amidst a dire housing crisis, HCD calculated a state-wide need of 3.5 million units over eight years. Southern California’s share of the load came out to 1.3 million units. Beverly Hills, which had been assigned a total of three units in the previous housing element cycle, received an allotment of 3,096 units.
The figure frustrated city officials, who tried fruitlessly to challenge the number. The City Council convened an ad hoc committee in October 2020 to weigh an appeal to the city’s RHNA allocation – a longshot, the city’s own staff admitted at the time. In December, the Council approved a letter to other local governments in the Southern California region, floating the idea of a legal challenge against HCD.
When neither strategy worked, the City Council voted in support of a letter requesting a six-month extension to the Housing Element adoption deadline. That, too, failed.
Without significant areas of undeveloped land, the city’s housing element proposed meeting the lion’s share of its RHNA obligations through mixed-use housing. Mixed-use developments allow for both commercial and residential uses. The city passed an ordinance establishing a mixed-use overlay zone in major commercial areas in October 2020.
The city is not alone in getting a thumbs down from HCD, Director of Community Development Ryan Gohlich told the Courier
The eight-page letter received by the city lays out the changes to the housing element necessary to come into compliance. The notes generally ask the city for more details and analysis on how the housing element achieves its statutory requirements. The letter asks for additional analysis and explanation on how the city will “affirmatively further fair housing” or take action in combatting patterns of segregation and fostering inclusive communities.
Depending on the additional analysis provided by the city in response to HCD, “the element must add or modify programs.”
The letter also asks for more information demonstrating that “all economic segments of the community, particularly low-and moderate-income households and organizations that represent them, were involved in the development of the housing element.”
But the notes point out more fundamental disagreements between the city and HCD. The state agency accuses the city of employing a definition of family that “acts as a constraint on persons with disabilities and is discriminatory.” Additionally, HCD found that the city excluded group homes of seven or more people from most residential zones.
In a previous round of comments, the city defended its definition of family and its group home regulations as compliant with state law.
The housing element now must return to the Planning Commission to review and make recommendations to the City Council, which will then vote to adopt a revised draft before sending it to HCD. The timeline for this process is unclear.
“We are reviewing the details of the letter internally and with our Housing Element consultant at this point to better understand the potential next steps,” Senior Planner Timothea Tway told the Courier. “Once we do this, we will have a better idea of timing for going back to the Planning Commission and then HCD.”