The housing element is a comprehensive statement about city or county current and future housing needs, and proposed actions to help provide for housing to people of all income levels. The housing element establishes specific goals, policies, objectives, and programs for providing housing, and includes an action plan toward this end. The element should identify and analyze housing needs, resources, and constraints on meeting those needs. Typical housing element goals are to:
- Promote and support developing a range of housing types.
- Preserve and rehabilitate housing stock in existing residential neighborhoods.
- Meet special housing needs.
- Promote residential energy conservation.
- Take actions to overcome patterns of segregation, address disparities in housing needs and access to opportunity, and foster inclusive communities.
- Reduce constraints to housing development and maintenance.
State law requires that a housing element provide clear policy direction for making decisions pertaining to zoning, subdivision approval, housing allocations, and capital improvements. State law (California Government Code Sections 65580–65589) mandates the contents of the housing element. By law, housing elements must contain:
- An assessment of housing needs and an inventory of resources and constraints relevant to meeting those needs.
- An assessment of fair housing needs.
- An inventory of adequate residential sites available for a variety of housing types for all income levels.
- An assessment of efforts to affirmatively further fair housing.
- An assessment of special housing needs, including the identification of zones where emergency shelters are allowed by-right.
- An assessment of “at-risk” assisted housing developments.
- An evaluation of opportunities for residential energy conservation.
- Actions to provide assistance in developing adequate housing to meet the needs of low- and moderate-income households.
- Identifying quantified objectives.
- Goals and policies.
- Programs that:
- set forth an eight-year implementation schedule
- conserve and improve the existing stock of affordable housing
- address governmental constraints on housing maintenance, improvement, and development
- promote housing opportunities for all persons
The housing element is the only general plan element subject to the State of California’s review and certification (a few other elements are subject to state agency review and comments). The Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) is responsible for establishing specific housing element contents and determining compliance with those requirements. Housing elements are updated on eight-year cycles. The next (sixth) cycle of updated housing elements in the San Joaquin Valley region are due to HCD for certification in late 2023 or early 2024, as follows:
- Dec. 15, 2023 – San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties and the cities in those counties
- Jan. 15, 2024 – Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, and Tulare counties and the cities in those counties
- March 15, 2024 – Merced County and the cities in that county
According to a survey conducted for the San Joaquin Valley REAP Land Use, Housing, and Zoning Report, over 48 percent of responding jurisdiction staff believe that housing elements are at least moderately effective in assisting housing production. Similarly, over 55 percent of respondents believe that general plan elements other than housing are at least moderately effective for enabling housing production in their jurisdictions.
Housing Element Examples
The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) keeps a list of award-winning and exemplary housing elements on its website. Current examples posted include: the cities of El Cajon, West Hollywood, Pasadena, La Mesa, Eastvale, Clearlake, and Stanislaus County.