Numbers Game

As a region, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties exceeded the last RHNA goal for the period of 2014-2023, but Monterey County overall built just 57 percent of its number.

Every eight years, the California Housing and Community Development Department lays out how many homes each region needs to build to keep up with demand, what’s known as a Regional Housing Needs Allocation. In 2014, the Monterey Bay region’s allocation required 10,000 housing units by 2023. In preparation for the next period, which ends in 2031, HCD has laid out a more aggressive RHNA goal, that is triple the last one: 33,274.

Depending on which formula HCD used, the number could have been as high as 40,000 units, says Heather Adamson, director of planning for the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. “We were all crossing our fingers it would come in a little bit lower just because it’s such a big shift,” she says. AMBAG is the agency responsible for dividing up the state-assigned RHNA goal among cities and counties.

The big jump comes after recent legislation that now demands jurisdictions build not only projected housing needs but also the unmet need in order to combat overcrowding, as well as provide affordable units for “cost-burdened” households that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Also new for AMBAG in the 2023-31 period is a focus on balancing where units go based on where the jobs are, as well as transit needs. They are also looking at resiliency, referring to building fewer homes near wildfire areas and those impacted by sea level rise.

It’s a balancing act that AMBAG officials are navigating along with the planning directors from both counties and the cities to come up with the housing numbers each jurisdiction will be expected to build while factoring in those guiding principles and limitations.

On Monday, Nov. 1, the Planning Directors Forum – a group of planning directors from each county, all 16 cities and other agencies – met virtually to discuss draft numbers for each jurisdiction. For example Salinas, which was expected to build 5,400 units in the last time period, is looking at a possible requirement of 9,350 units in the next eight years. Monterey jumped from 504 units to 2,221. Unincorporated Monterey County, which was at 637, could hike to 3,000.

Some planning directors and housing advocates voiced concerns that the scales used by AMBAG were tipping unfairly. Scott Bruce, a planner for King City, pointed out his city couldn’t build out its current housing plan and said of the 1,000 units proposed for King City, “There’s so much on paper that we can’t get there.”

There was also concern the methodology favored moderate to above-moderate priced units over affordable ones, or could result in sprawl in rural areas. The directors’ concerns are heightened in the face of legislation that goes into effect on Jan. 1, giving HCD more authority to enforce RHNA goals and penalize jurisdictions through possible fines.

For now, the housing allotments are not finalized. There is a virtual public meeting of the AMBAG board to discuss RHNA methodology at 6pm on Wednesday, Nov. 10 (at bit.ly/11-10AMBAG). A draft plan will be released in January or February, followed by HCD review and approval. The plan is expected to be finalized by summer 2022, after which cities and counties must rework their housing plans and zoning ordinances to meet the new requirements.

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