Regulatory Barriers and Constraints

Housing elements must identify and analyze all constraints to housing development, improvement, and maintenance for all income levels, including for people with disabilities. The analysis should determine whether local, regulatory standards, or processes pose an actual constraint, and if so, must also demonstrate local efforts to remove those that hinder a jurisdiction from meeting its housing needs.  

While promoting public health and safety, government actions can produce unintended consequences, such as increasing housing costs. Regulatory constraints include land use controls, zoning and building codes, fees, exactions, and permit procedures. Land use controls and zoning codes may limit development, while building codes may set specific building standards that add material costs or limit building space on a site, increasing the cost of housing per unit. Fees and exactions can lead to increased housing costs or discourage housing development. Permit procedures can lead to excessive review times, or even housing project failure.

In some jurisdictions, zoning district development standards can limit parcels, precluding certain housing types or needs. Maximum density, parking requirements, lot coverage, height limits, unit size requirements, setbacks, and open space requirements are some of the typical development standards that may limit uses, potentially conflicting with fair housing laws. Such limitations could constrain multifamily rental housing, factory-built housing, mobile homes, housing for agricultural employees, supportive housing, single-room-occupancy units, emergency shelters, and transitional housing development.

Maximum allowable density is a common regulatory constraint. Lower-density requirements, combined with high land costs, may prevent housing from being affordable to lower-income families. Height limits and building coverage requirements can also create constraints; these factors could prevent developing a parcel with its maximum density potential. Off-street parking requirements can also result in increased development costs. If a jurisdiction has excessive parking standards, more land is required, reducing space for housing and increasing per-unit housing cost.

Relevant State Law 

Constraints to Production of Housing:  Government Code § 65583 

Mitigation Fee Act:  Government Code § 66000-66025

Survey Results

The majority (51.6 percent) of survey respondents found that zoning would be a likely barrier to housing production. This high percentage is likely a product of changing State regulations that have caused local jurisdictions to update their codes.  Most respondents found that the following areas of their codes have yet to be updated:

Low-barrier navigation centers 69.70%
Housing Crisis Act (SB 330, 2019) 62.50%
Streamlined review (SB 35, 2017) 57.58%
Objective design standards 54.55%
Single-room occupancy 42.42%
Density bonus 38.24%
Community care facilities 36.36%
Accessory dwelling units 8.82%


Given the State Legislature’s changes to housing law over the last three years, not surprisingly, 61.29 percent of respondents noted they would be interested in technical assistance to address needed zoning changes. 

Stakeholder Interviews

Stakeholders made the several observations and recommendations:

  • Streamline permit processing. Create streamlined zoning and plan permit applications processes.
  • Update development regulations. Updates to development and zoning codes are critical. Even if funding is available and policies are in place, development and zoning codes can discourage the very types of development needed ‒ some product types should be “by-right.”
  • Ineffective density bonus law. Respondents noted the Valley is not dense enough for density bonuses to work in many areas.  (See Terner Study link below).
  • Reduce fees. Impact fees are a development constraint. Several interviewees believe impact fees need to be reduced for preferred housing projects.


California Department of Housing and Community Development, Housing Element Building Blocks.  

California Department of Housing and Community Development, By-right Rezoning Checklists/Model Ordinances/Fact Sheets/Templates

California Department of Housing and Community Development, Objective Design Standards – Approaches and Considerations. 

California Department of Housing and Community Development, SB 35 (2017) – Streamlined Ministerial Approval. 

California Department of Housing and Community Development, SB 330 (2019) – Jurisdictions That Cannot Take Certain Zoning Actions. 

Terner Center for Housing Innovation, UC Berkeley, Revisiting California’s Density Bonus Law: Analysis of SB 21085 and AB 2345 (July 2020).