By DICK SPOTSWOOD | email@example.com |
April 23, 2022 at 10:50 a.m.
RHNA is an acronym that often brings terror to elected county supervisors, city council members, municipal planners and those living in already overpopulated coastal communities.
Those letters stand for Regional Housing Needs Assessment. That’s the state mandate of specific numbers of housing units every California town, city and county needs to plan for and facilitate by 2031.
The RHNA mandate is a prime example of the top down, “we know best” approach which has become a hallmark of California’s current legislators.
Given the numbers exactness, it superficially appeared there was serious research and scholarship behind the precise allocation, not some poorly sourced guesstimate.
That was an illusion.
For San Rafael, the state’s precision implied a scientific-like process backed by hard evidence. The Mission City is told it needs to create 2,785 new housing units of which exactly 752 are for very low income folks, 433 aimed at low income earners, 446 moderate and 1,154 for those above moderate income. “Above moderate” is a bureaucratic way of saying wealthy.
It was never a secret that legislators were aiming for as many new housing units as conceivable. Staff didn’t have to be told what state legislators expected.
Elected officials and homeowner groups criticized the opaque methodology behind compiling RHNA. Those objections were blown off as sour grapes by staff, legislators, housing activists and the big city press.
Then a neutral arbiter, Michael S. Tilden, California’s acting state auditor, got involved by direction of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. His office evaluated the RHNA process that the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) used to provide the housing directives to local governments.
Tilden’s office “found that HCD could not demonstrate it adequately considered all of the factors state law requires. … This insufficient oversight and lack of support for its considerations risks eroding public confidence that HCD is informing local governments of the appropriate amount of housing they will need.”
Further, the state Department of Finance “has not adequately supported the rates it uses to project the number of future households that will require housing units in the state. Although these household projections are a key component in HCD’s needs assessments, Finance has not conducted a proper study or obtained formal recommendations from experts it consulted to support its assumptions in this area.”
The auditor’s conclusion: “Overall, our audit determined that HCD does not ensure that its needs assessments are accurate and adequately supported.”
The report indicates the housing and finance departments “agreed with our recommendations and plans to implement them over the next year.” This is pure bureaucratic hypocrisy as the Housing and Community Development website now claims “California State Auditor’s report on the RHNA process found HCD’s needs assessment to be sound.”
Municipal and county planning to implement the needs assessment should halt now. No decisions should be made by any town or county until citizens have a regional needs assessment based on legitimate, verifiable and provable data and not on a politically-based wish list.
This time, the housing department needs to do it right if the final needs assessment numbers are to have any public credibility.