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A Housing Element is how local jurisdictions plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community. At its core, a Housing Element is an opportunity to have a community conversation about how to address local housing challenges and find solutions. The Housing Element is one important part of a city or county’s General Plan, which serves as the blueprint for how a city or county will grow and address changing needs for development. Every eight years, every city, town and county must update their Housing Element and have it certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
A Housing Element is a local plan, adopted by a city, town or county that includes the goals, policies and programs that direct decision-making around housing. All jurisdictions in the Bay Area must update their Housing Element for the 2023-2031 planning period. Local jurisdictions look at housing trends, zoning and market constraints, and evaluate various approaches to meeting housing needs across income levels.
The Housing Element typically includes the components listed below.
If a city does not comply with State law, it can be sued. In addition to facing significant fines, a court may limit local land use decision-making authority until the jurisdiction brings its Housing Element into compliance. Additionally, local governments may lose the right to deny certain projects. These and other consequences are established in state law; Housing Elements are subject to regulatory oversight by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
To figure out how many housing units a jurisdiction needs, the State of California first looks at several factors like how many jobs there are, how close people live to their place of work, and how many new jobs and new people we are expecting. After doing this, they assign each region a number called the Regional Housing Needs Allocation or RHNA (pronounced ‘ree-nah’).
It is then up to the region, and in our case the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), to decide how much each city is responsible for based on their size and how they are expected to grow by 2050, according to Plan Bay Area. Almost all cities in the Bay Area have a significantly higher target this RHNA cycle than in the past. More details about RHNA are available in the ABAG Regional Housing Needs Allocation Draft Methodology. Once we know our responsibility, cities have to develop a plan to meet or exceed this number in their Housing Element to comply with state law.
Why it matters
More housing and more diverse housing choices means
The Safety Element is another part of the General Plan and contains goals and policies to reduce the potential short and long-term risk of loss of life, personal injury, property damage and economic and social dislocation resulting from fire, floods, earthquakes and other hazards.
State law now includes climate risk in the Safety Element. We are updating the Safety Element to incorporate climate adaptation and resiliency strategies, and ways to reduce these risks.
The element will be updated for consistency with other local documents such as the Climate Action Plan and the County's Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, which is currently underway.
The housing need for the Bay Area region for the current planning period (2023-2031) has been determined by the State of California to be 441,176 housing units. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has determined that San Mateo County's share of the regional housing need is 47,321 housing units and of that total, Menlo Park's fair share is 2,946 housing units (6.2% of San Mateo County's total). By comparison, Redwood City’s share is 4,588 units, San Mateo's share is 7,015 units, Burlingame’s share is 3,257 units, Daly City’s share is 4,838 units and Unincorporated San Mateo County’s share is 2,833 units.
Providing housing to meet the needs of all income levels is critical to the social and economic health of Menlo Park. The City of Menlo Park must plan for its income-based housing allocation to address its share of the Bay Area region’s housing needs. San Mateo County's 2021 Area Median Income (AMI) for a household of four persons is $149,600. Income groups include: “very low income” (less than 50% of AMI); “low income” (50-80% of AMI); “moderate income” (80-120% of AMI); and “above moderate income” (greater than 120% of AMI). Within the 2023-2031 Housing Element, Menlo Park is required to plan for its fair share allocation of housing units by income group as follows:
Approximately 40% of the allocation satisfies the housing needs of very low- and low-income households. In total, about 3,000 housing units are needed to accommodate Menlo Park's 2023-2031 growth for all income groups as estimated through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process. Note, the housing units herein summarized are in draft form. Final RHNA allocation and ABAG Executive Board approval is anticipated in December 2021.
Environmental justice (EJ) is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.
Fair treatment means no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies.
Meaningful involvement means