Cities’ Upcoming Need to Identify Housing Opportunity Sites


The next RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) cycle is quickly approaching, which means that all Bay Area cities will be taking a closer look at their Housing Elements and determining whether they have enough land zoned to accommodate more housing.

In June 2020, the California Housing and Community Development (“HCD”) provided the Bay Area its Regional Housing Needs Determination for the next RHNA cycle (2023-2031), identifying a need for 441,176 new housing units.  The overall figure is further categorized into very low (26%), low (15%), moderate (16%), and above moderate (43%) housing and income levels.  This figure represents a significant increase when compared to the prior RHNA cycle (2015-2023) when the Bay Area was allocated 187,990 units.  In the Bay Area, the Association of Bay Area Governments (“ABAG”) is responsible for allocating the overall figure among cities and counties, and its Housing Methodology Committee spent much of 2020 in meetings to discuss and decide on different methodology options.  Regardless of which allocation methodology was going to be chosen, most Bay Area cities and counties are seeing a significant increase in their RHNA allocations.

ABAG’s Executive Board approved the Draft RHNA Methodology and Final RHNA Subregional Shares (“Draft Allocation”) for the Bay Area on January 21, 2021.  The Draft Allocation is subject to HCD approval on or before April 11, 2021, and thereafter an appeal opportunity by individual cities and counties during Summer/Fall 2021.  Historically, very few appeals by individual cities or counties have been successful, and thus most of the Draft Allocation figures are anticipated to be adopted as final allocations by late 2021.

Once the allocations have been finalized, individual cities and counties will need to amend their Housing Elements and identify sufficient number of vacant or underdeveloped sites that can accommodate the RHNA figure allocated to each city.  Many cities are currently starting the process by engaging consultants to work on their next Housing Element update.  The updated housing elements must be submitted to the State by each city and county no later than January 2023, and if applicable, cities and counties will thereafter need to rezone properties consistent with the updated Housing Elements and site identifications.

To understand the magnitude of the increases cities and counties are facing for the next RHNA cycle, it is helpful to look at some of the Draft Allocation figures.  The following represents a sampling of Bay Area cities, comparing their final 2015-2023 RHNA figure to those proposed in the Draft Allocation for the next, 2023-2031 cycle.  For a complete list of cities/counties, see the Draft Allocation.

City2015-2023 cycle2023-2031 cycle
San Francisco28,86982,069
San Jose35,08062,200
Walnut Creek2,2355,805
Daly City1,3504,838
Menlo Park6552,946
San Bruno1,1553,165
Los Gatos6191,993

Cities and counties are not required to build new housing, but they are required to plan for it and specifically plan for enough housing that satisfies their assigned RHNA figure.  Since most Bay Area cities and counties are subject to significant increases, local city councils and board of supervisors, along with their Planning Departments, will be taking a comprehensive look at zoning and development in their jurisdictions over the next year and a half.  This may also represent opportunities in the near-term for property owners of currently vacant or underutilized properties and/or those that lack the zoning necessary for residential development.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Tuija Catalano.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.