Housing Element Advocacy

A Housing Element outlines a city's approach to housing for the next eight years, and it is one of the best ways to implement affordable housing in your community. On this page, you will find recommendations to cities currently revising their housing elements, resources for advocates working with housing elements, and examples of Welcoming Neighbors Home's work with housing element advocacy. To view Welcoming Neighbors Home's public comments on Orange County cities' Housing Elements click the link below!

What is Affordable Housing?

Affordable housing is defined to be housing that costs 30% or less of a household income.

Housing burden disproportionately affects people with lower incomes because even modest housing can take up a large portion of the household budget.

Moving further away to find affordable housing increases commuting costs. The Housing and Transportation Affordability Index provides a more comprehensive view of housing affordability.

OC Housing Production Not Fufilling the Need

Orange County cities have allowed above-market rate housing to flourish without ensuring there is an adequate supply of affordable housing for those with lower incomes.

Source: Orange County 2020 Affordable Housing Needs Report, by the California Housing Partnership in collaboration with the Kennedy Commission

Housing Element Recommendations to Orange County Cities

While cities are not required to build affordable housing, there is so much they can do to plan for, and promote, its development within their city borders. Cities should rigorously work to ensure there is an adequate supply of affordable housing for ALL of its residents.

The recommendations listed below are guided by a “Housing First” philosophy – the belief that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness and those who are housing insecure – because safe and affordable housing is critical to health and economic stability.

We gratefully acknowledge the staff of the Kennedy Commission, United Way’s United to End Homelessness Campaign, Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition, People for Housing – YIMBY OC and YIMBY Law who helped us learn about affordable housing policies. This learning is reflected in the recommendations listed below.

Zoning Related Recommendations

1. Zone extensively for higher density. To be economically feasible, affordable housing works best on land zoned for 30 units or more to the acre. Zone as many sites as possible for higher density so as to facilitate builders including affordable housing in their developments. The community should gain benefit in the form of affordable housing in exchange for this higher density zoning - because such zoning makes the land more valuable to the owner.

2. Zone for affordable housing in high opportunity areas - e.g., within ½ mile from transit, jobs, shopping, schools to conform to AB 686 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.

​3. Implement new Density Bonus incentives for developers as required under AB 2348, effective 1/1/2021. AB 2348 establishes a number of affordable units a developer must provide in order to increase residential densities and be eligible for additional incentives. The amendments made are to provide further incentives for developments that are up to 100% affordable.

A). Increases the maximum density bonus up to-50-percent, depending on the number and level of deed-restricted affordable homes

B). Incentivizes additional density bonus projects by reducing the maximum parking required by localities for qualifying projects

C). Provides two incentives or concessions to a project if it includes at least;17% low, 10% very low, or 20% for moderate in a common interest development.

D). Provides three incentives or concessions to a project if it includes at least: 24% low, 15% very low, or 30% for moderate in a common interest development.

E). Provides local governments discretion to grant additional waivers for projects located within a half-mile of transit and 100% affordable.​

4. Increase mixed use zoning throughout the city that allows for substantial numbers of housing units, tied to workforce levels of income, when developing nonresidential land.

5. Include church or other faith institution properties in the overlay zones for affordable housing and adopt ordinances that facilitate the building of affordable housing on those properties. (For more information see the Congregational Land Committee program.)

Policy and Program Recommendations

1. Adopt an inclusionary housing policy that requires all housing development projects to have 15% of units as affordable while specifically dedicating 5% for extremely low- income, 5% for very low-income and 5% for low-income residents.

(Video: Inclusionary Housing Explained)

2. Proactively develop relationships with non-profit housing developers. Such a partnership could yield millions of dollars in matching funds from state and federal housing funds and specialty mortgages for building affordable housing for extremely low, very low, and low- income. These specialty builders can work alone or with market rate builders, enabling a faster, more cost-effective outcome.

A). Today’s non-profit developers have honed their abilities to build attractive, quality housing cost effectively for low wage workers and their families. These affordable communities are very different from the low-income housing erected 30-60 years ago!

B). Some examples of affordable housing developments in Orange County:

1. Jamboree : https://www.jamboreehousing.com/blogs/affordable-housing-developer-partner​

2. National CORE OC sites: https://nationalcore.org/portfolio/california-communities/orange-county-ca/

3. Mercy Housing sites: https://www.mercyhousing.org/california/linbrook-court/

4. Mary Erikson Community Housing: https://www.maryerickson.org/

5. Innovative Housing Opportunities: https://www.innovativehousing.com/

3. Ease Governmental constraints for developers who build inclusionary housing scaled upward with increased very low and extremely low affordable units.

A). Streamlined Procedural Incentives: Emphasize processes/procedures like the consolidation of applications to one hearing, fast-tracking of design, and review and inspections with priority processing and scheduling for interim inspections.

B). Reduction in Development Standards: Offer a reduction in setback and square footage requirements and in the ratio of required vehicle parking.

4. Fiscal Incentives: Emphasize, promote, and encourage the use of incentives available to those developers that include affordable housing. Typical incentives include waivers or reductions in fees, low interest loans or subsidies, and financial or mortgage assistance for acquisition of property.

5. Adopt an Adaptive Reuse Ordinance such as the one used by the city of Santa Ana[1] that streamlines the regulatory process for converting non-residential buildings into affordable housing- but target it for very low and extremely low income housing. This ordinance applied in the building of the Santa Ana Arts Collective.[2]

6. Adopt an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) affordability program that incentivizes owners to create very low income units such as the LA Mas Backyard Homes Project: An Affordable Housing Initiative, Santa Cruz County’s ADU Forgivable Loan Program or Monterey Bay My House My Home A Partnership for Aging in Place.

7. Streamline the approval of, and provide financing for, the conversion of motels/hotels to affordable and permanent supportive housing.

8. Address the need for temporary emergency housing (as required by SB2) by providing vouchers to motels/hotels (versus congregate care settings which are less safe and also more expensive).

9. These additional resources may be useful in updating your programs and approaches. Both are available online:

A).“Meeting California’s Housing Needs: Best Practices for Inclusionary Housing.” [3]

B). “Designing Affordability: Innovative Strategies for Meeting the Affordability Gap Between Low Income Subsidy and the Market in High Cost Areas.” [4]

C). A New Approach to the Housing Element Update - UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies

[1] https://www.santa-ana.org/sites/default/files/pb/planning/Counter%20Forms/Adaptive%20Reuse%20Ord.%206.30.20.pdf

[2] https://voiceofoc.org/2019/06/public-demand-for-affordable-artists-apartments-in-santa-ana-prompts-city-outreach-effort/

[3] https://www.lgc.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/inclusionary-factsheet_v2.pdf

[4] https://www.hcd.ca.gov/policy-research/plans-reports/docs/designingaffordability2015.pdf

Finance Related Recommendations

1. Apply to the Orange County Housing Finance Trust for gap funding grants for permanent supportive housing.

2. Use new financial resources for affordable housing

A). Land Value Recapture is based on the observation that plan approvals – a public action – considerably increase the value of land by increasing what can be built (e.g., higher-density housing) on that land. It stands to reason that some of the increased land value should be recaptured by the public in the form of community benefits in the affected neighborhoods, that could bring additional public facilities and/or affordable housing to the city’s communities and the development on it.” [1]

B). Tie development of new office and retail to need to support housing for the workforce: Linkage Fees

A). Los Angeles has an Affordable Housing Linkage Fee (Linkage Fee). “This ordinance, adopted December 13, 2017, established a fee per square foot on certain new market-rate residential and commercial developments to generate local funding for affordable housing production and preservation. The fee varies by the type of use and by geography across the city.” [2] It is similar in concept to a Quimby Fee, and is structured to generate funding for housing and neighborhood improvement – such as parks.

C). Work with the Orange County Board of Supervisors and neighboring cities, to create a regional housing bond ballot measure to fund affordable housing and permanent supportive housing.

A). Other California cities and counties have taken this approach [3]

3. Consult with the Orange County Board of Supervisors to access funding for affordable housing for the homeless through the American Rescue Plan Act HOME Supplemental Allocations. Orange County has been awarded $5,017,613. See HUD April 8, 2021 press release.

[1] https://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/opinion/theres-a-way-for-the-city-to-balance-density-with-quality-of-lif

[2]7 DOWNTOWN COMMUNITY PLAN COMMUNITY BENEFITS PROGRAM https://planning.lacity.org/odocument/2c541d44-8b58-478b-b2af-bedcc60271f7/Community_Benefits_Summary_PH_draft.pdf

[3] The San Diego City Council voted 6-3 to place on the November ballot a $900 million housing bond that would raise taxes on city property owners to pay for roughly 7,500 subsidized apartments. The estimate had ranged from $500,000 to $785,000, but now it's $700,000 to $1.2 million per ballot measure. San Diego Union Tribune, July 14, 2020.

Advocate Resourcses

When creating a Housing Element, cities often look to their constituencies for feedback. To ensure the future of affordable housing in your community, it is important to stay informed on your city's current housing policies, as well as its plans for the future. Below you will find resources for reviewing your city's Housing Element, as well as training resourcs that will you understand what you find and advocate for positive housing policies.

Resources for City Housing Element Review

For general documents, which can usually be found on the city website, look at:

  • Housing Element, past and present

  • RHNA, past and present

  • City General Plan

  • Policies: Inclusionary Housing, In-Lieu, other housing policies & programs

  • Planning documents and Developer agreements

  • Consultant agreements

  • California State Housing & Community Development (HCD) letters to City (Kennedy Commission may have these)

For history or context of decisions look at:

  • City Council agendas/minutes

  • Planning Commissions agendas/minutes

  • Orange County Register archives

  • Public comments

For demographic information related to city look at

  • SCAG pre-certified data files for 6th Cycle: http://scag.ca.gov/programs/Pages/Housing-Elements-2020.aspx?utm_medium=email

Information and Training Resources

Welcoming Neighbors Home

  • Tips for submitting online public comments to city councils available here

YIMBY Action

  • "What is a Housing Element? Primer is available as a PDF here.

  • Housing Element Training Webinar Video Recording: "How to be a Housing Element Hero" can be viewed here. (This is a basic intro level video. You'll need to put in your name and email address.)

  • YIMBY Training: Giving Great Public Comment in the Era of COVID-19

Campaign for Fair Housing Elements

  • This multi-organization website has a resource library which can be accessed here - https://fairhousingelements.org

  • Coming soon will be a guide to help advocates evaluate 6th Cycle Housing Element Drafts.

  • It includes a good introductory piece: RHNA & Housing Elements, Explained: https://yimbyaction.org/rhna/

Kennedy Commission

  • Kennedy Commission's Best Practices Tool Kit (Housing Element policies that will help produce affordable housing) is available as a PDF here.

  • Kennedy Commission Trainings: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnx8Mazc2JbtuXh27ewy188NEEtxVMc0n

  • Kennedy Commission Housing Element Resources- https://www.kennedycommission.org/he-101

  • Contact Cesar Covarrubias, Executive Director (cesarc@KennedyCommission.org 949-250-0909) or Mildred Perez, Project Manager (mildredp@KennedyCommission.org) at the Kennedy Commission to ask for links to recordings, slides and handout material for the following training they provided. They are also available to consult with advocates on housing element updates.

California Housing and Community Development Department (HCD)

  • Housing element resources: https://www.hcd.ca.gov/community-development/housing-element/index.shtml

  • Community building blocks: https://www.hcd.ca.gov/community-development/building-blocks/index.shtml

  • Training Webinar by HCD on Site Inventory: Housing Element Site Inventory in the 6th Cycle Guidebook and Form 20Jul24 mp4

​​Southern California Association of Governments

  • SCAG 6th Cycle Final RNHA Allocations: https://scag.ca.gov/sites/main/files/file-attachments/6th-cycle-rhna-final-allocation-plan.pdf?1616462966

  • SCAG 6th Cycle Housing Element Update Information - including pre-certified data for cities: https://scag.ca.gov/local-housing-data?utm_medium=email

  • SCAG – Southern California Association of Governments site database: https://maps.scag.ca.gov/helpr/?page=page_

  • Filters include:

Vacant parcels of land that are of the appropriate size

Commercial parcels with infill potential

Public lands in high opportunity areas – i.e. near jobs, shopping and/or transit​

  • Directions for its use: https://maps.scag.ca.gov/helpr/SCAG_HELPR_AboutTool_v10.pdf

  • Training video on HELPR tool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYDL_xKtG-4

California Housing Law

  • CA 2019 Housing Laws and Affordable Housing: https://pdf.hklaw.com/pdfrenderer.svc/v1/abcpdf11/GetRenderedPdfByUrl/Californias%202019%20Housing%20Laws%20What%20You%20Need%20to%20Kno.pdf/?url=http%3a%2f%2fwww.hklaw.com%2fen%2finsights%2fpublications%2f2018%2f10%2fcalifornias-2019-housing-laws-what-you-need-to-kno%3fpdf%3d1

  • CA 2020 Housing Laws and Affordable Housing: https://pdf.hklaw.com/pdfrenderer.svc/v1/abcpdf11/GetRenderedPdfByUrl/Californias%202020%20Housing%20Laws%20What%20You%20Need%20to%20Know.pdf/?url=http%3a%2f%2fwww.hklaw.com%2fen%2finsights%2fpublications%2f2019%2f10%2fcalifornias-2020-housing-laws-what-you-need-to-know%3fpdf%3d1

  • For additional publications and trainings on housing element law, please visit: http://www.pilpca.org/publications-trainings/

Other Resources

  • Association of Bay Area Governments: Sample Ordinances http://housing.abag.ca.gov/policysearch

  • Best Practices in Inclusionary Housing: https://www.lgc.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/inclusionary-factsheet_v2.pdf

  • Designing Affordability: Innovative Strategies for Meeting the Affordability Gap Between Low Income Subsidy and the Market in High Cost Areas (from HCD'S website): https://www.hcd.ca.gov/policy-research/plans-reports/docs/designingaffordability2015.pdf

  • How the H--- Did we Get Here? Affordable Housing in OC with Maya Dunne, Mary Ann Gaido and Cesar Covarrubias. Presented on Feb 8th at a Housing is a Human Right Orange County meeting - https://youtu.be/SEL4WdSr8W8