California

California Massively Increased the Amount of Housing the Bay Area Has To Allow. YIMBY Lawsuit Says 'Eh, Could Be More.'

A new lawsuit from two YIMBY groups argues that the state failed to incorporate a jobs-housing balance when calculating the number of new homes the San Francisco Bay Area has to plan for.

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In a man-bites-dog story for the ages, California activists are suing the state for planning for too little housing.

On Thursday, the pro-housing development groups YIMBY Action and YIMBY Law filed a petition in the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda, against the state's Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), arguing that the department failed to consider the Bay Area's imbalance between jobs and housing when determining how many new homes the region has to plan for.

That failure to consider the jobs-housing balance, their petition claims, violates state laws and has resulted in HCD giving the Bay Area a planning quota that's short over 100,000 homes.

"It's not that HCD is even trying to pick a jobs-housing balance and trying to get us to something that's better than the status quo. They're just leaving it out altogether," says Sonja Trauss, YIMBY Law's executive director. "They have to at least consider it. They have to open that political pandora's box."

Understanding what's at stake in the YIMBY groups' lawsuit requires some background on the exceptionally bureaucratic, acronym-heavy Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process by which the state government hands down housing production goals to California's metropolitan regions.

Every eight years, HCD gives the state's regional government councils—which in the Bay Area is the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG)—a quota for how many new housing units they're projected to need. Regional governments like ABAG then divide up that regional quota among local governments. These local governments are then required to change their zoning laws to accommodate however many units the state and regional governments are saying they need.

Government agencies determining needs, setting quotas, and handing down plans is no free marketer's dream. At the same time, this RHNA process is the main way by which California's state government can force localities to loosen zoning laws that prevent developers and property owners from building housing where the market will bear it.

That's the idea, at least.

The RHNA process has long been criticized for allowing regions to get away with housing production targets that are too low, and local governments to get away with not even meeting these minimal targets; either by not loosening their zoning codes enough or by coming up with byzantine processes that delay or stop zoning-compliant housing projects from being built.

Making these housing production goals closer to what the market is demanding, and then ensuring that local governments actually allow that housing to be built, has been a major thrust of housing reform legislation at the state level over the past several years.

The two laws most relevant to the YIMBY groups' lawsuit are S.B. 375—a climate change bill passed in 2008 that, in part, requires regions to consider the jobs-housing balance as a means of cutting commuters' carbon emissions—and the 2018-passed S.B. 828.

That second bill, notes the YIMBYs' petition, reiterated the requirement that HCD "promote an improved intraregional relationship between jobs and housing" when deciding how many homes a region had to plan for. S.B. 828 also required a number of changes in how a region's housing needs are calculated that have massively increased the number of new homes regions and cities have to plan for.

In June, HCD gave ABAG a regional housing needs determination of 441,176 new homes, up from the 187,990 it had to plan for last cycle, according to S.F. Weekly. The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) had its housing allocation increase from 400,000 to 1.3 million units this cycle.

In October, ABAG approved a plan that distributes those 441,176 homes among the Bay Area's counties and cities. That plan still has to be certified by HCD.

These massively increased targets, which will require local governments to permit a lot more housing, amounted to a major YIMBY victory.

Yet some YIMBY activists, as evidenced by Thursday's lawsuit, are not satisfied. Despite the big RHNA increases for the Bay Area, their petition argues that the methodology used by ABAG and HCD did not incorporate any consideration of a regional jobs-housing balance as required by state law.

Had ABAG and HCD properly accounted for that jobs-housing balance, they say, the Bay Area would be required to plan for an additional 137,000 homes on top of the 441,176 units they're already being told to accommodate.

That number is sourced from a July study from UCLA's Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. That study argued that the Bay Area should have to plan for roughly one unit of housing for every "supercommuter" (someone whose commute is 90 minutes or more) the region has. The theory here is that these supercommuters wouldn't have to spend so much time getting to work if only local governments allowed more housing to be built closer to job centers.

YIMBY Law and YIMBY Action's lawsuit is demanding that the court force HCD to take into account the region's population of supercommuters and increase the Bay Area's regional housing needs allocation to some 578,000 units.

In January, ABAG sent the methodology it used to distribute its RHNA requirements among local governments to HCD for review. The department is supposed to finalize RHNA allocations by December of this year. Local governments have to update their zoning codes and general plans to comply with RHNA by January 2023.

During that time, local governments can, and will, appeal their RHNA allocations.

The YIMBYs' lawsuit, if successful, will increase the overall targets that the region will have to accommodate, but that still leaves a lot of work to be done throughout the multi-year RHNA process, says Trauss.

"This lawsuit is not the only thing we're doing and if it were, it wouldn't be worth doing," she tells Reason. "We have to do this lawsuit to make sure HCD gives ABAG the right number. Then there's organizing about making that number gets distributed through the region in a way that advances access to opportunity. Once it's distributed, we have to make sure that the cities aren't cheating on their housing element."

It took a lot of years and a lot of bureaucratic plans for California to dig itself into its current hole of housing unaffordability. It'll take a long time, and a lot of effort, for it to dig itself out of its current crisis too.

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  4. “It took a lot of years and a lot of bureaucratic plans for California to dig itself into its current hole of housing unaffordability. It’ll take a long time, and a lot of effort, for it to dig itself out of its current crisis too.”

    California is never going to dig itself out. In fifty years it will resemble something like the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia, but with taco trucks.

    1. Yeah, California is pretty much a lost cause at this point. It already resembles a third-world country with its massive income inequality, and behavioral sink cities on the coast that possess a ridiculously high cost of living. Its days as a middle class paradise are pretty much done, although it will always have the beautiful scenery.

      1. “It already resembles a third-world country with its massive income inequality, and behavioral sink cities on the coast that possess a ridiculously high cost of living…”

        Cue the São Paulo pictures of favelas right next door to luxury condo buildings, each floor with its own swimming pool.

        Given this is a Britschgi article, I’m just going to take it for granted that it’s whining that the relevant California agency won’t let developers drop an 8-plex rental building in the middle of a neighborhood of SFHs, and that’s where the complaining about ‘not allowing enough homes’ comes from. And not from decrying CA environmental restrictions not allowing homes to be built because “it impacts my viewshed” or “decreases habitat for the Coastal Varigated Mealworm” or such.

        Am I close?

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  6. Who else is cheering for a massive earthquake to bury the shit hole?

    1. Beachfront property in the Central Valley.

      1. Alas, it’s a sliding fault, and not a subduction one.

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        Like the mystics and statistics say it will
        I predict this motel will be standin’ until I pay my bill.

        We could use some more crucified thieves in that state.

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  7. Attaining the right amount of housing is easy. Get out of the way of the real estate developers.

    1. And let them bully the heroine addicts trying to shit peacefully on public streets? No way, José!

      1. And let them bully the heroine addicts

        My addiction runs between Wonder Woman and the Dark Phoenix. Luckily I am not shitting in the street yet. 🙂

        1. Fapping is fapping. As long as you do it in the streets!

          1. Does the back of a dark theatre count? Asking for a fan of Catwoman.
            Not that he could go to a theatre these days.

        2. I see what you did thar.

  8. There will be plenty of office space to convert to housing in a short time.

  9. Fortunately now we don’t need more housing. Everyone is leaving.

  10. The democrat shrill response to the pandemic has crushed the 19th and 20th century era cities for good, much like it did the theaters and other fading aspects of modern life. Good riddance. Happy to see the large bailed out institutions die off.

    1. Don’t forget the riots.

  11. It’s a pretty standard method to discourage development by not building infrastructure.

    I see it even in Texas. “I’m not voting for that road bond, it just means more people will move here.”

  12. There’s always hope! Go to the courts and sue! Too bad developers aren’t allowed to develop and home buyers have nothing to buy.
    Do home street dwellers count as part of income inequality when they have no income?

    1. Yes, they do, just like Bezos, Gates and Zuckerberg count towards the calculation of your average white privilege.

  13. The speed at which businesses are fleeing Kali there will plenty of commercial and industrial buildings laying around that can be converted to apartments. And, since there won’t be any jobs left everyone can just go to work for the cities, counties and state further propagating growth in The SEIU. A Demo rat dream come true. Any producers that are dumb enough to stick around will be yoked with the bill.

    1. That is somewhat true. The real truth is that real estate development lending is extremely risky. No bank in their right mind would lend billions to a land developer in a shithole commie city. The risk of city council left wing induced exodus (then default) is too great. Not sure how the State can mandate a bank to lend. Oh well it’s California. Yeah activists, take the banks to court, blah blah blah.

  14. Has anyone asked Sloppy Joe what he thinks and if he could just issue an executive order dictating a federal solution?

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