For many months, Abundant Housing LA members and volunteers have been dedicating their time to work on an obscure, technical process called the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). A component of the State Housing Law, RHNA determines the amount of housing we are required to build over the next eight years, and then allocates that number to different cities and jurisdictions in the region.
Despite many telling us this fight was impossible or futile, we continued full-force and delivered a major housing victory for the entire region, one that will force upzoning and additional funding for affordable housing in almost every city in Southern California.
Until this process, few of us were familiar with the acronym “SCAG”–the Southern California Association of Governments–which is the regional body that administers RHNA. Trying to explain SCAG to someone recently, they said, “I’m familiar with city governments, county governments, and state governments, but what kind of government is this?” As a Council of Governments, SCAG operates mostly behind the scenes. Even though all L.A. City Councilmembers and the Mayor of L.A. are SCAG board members, any attendance on their part has historically been unusual.
The first part of Abundant Housing LA’s advocacy strategy was a RHNA workshop for our volunteer activists. Soon after our workshop, SCAG had its first major action when it established a total housing goal of only 430,000 homes for the entire 18 million-resident region for the next eight years. With an existing housing deficit in LA County alone of over 500,000 subsidized affordable homes, the idea of only 430,000 new homes across six counties over the next eight years was absurd. Thanks to UCLA Professor Paavo Monkkonen–who has worked tirelessly to hold SCAG accountable by serving on the RHNA subcommittee–Abundant Housing LA was able to counter SCAG’s number with our own recommendation of a range as high as 2.7 million homes, which more accurately reflected the region’s housing needs. We advocated for this better number to SCAG, Governor Gavin Newsom, and any and all policymakers who could weigh in on the process.
As a result of this advocacy, the Governor, through the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), increased SCAG’s RHNA number to 1.34 million, which was on the low end of the range we endorsed. HCD agreed with AHLA’s and Paavo Monkkonen’s recommended method for calculating the region’s housing needs.
Though SCAG objected to the 1.34 million number, we continued to leverage key decision-makers to ensure HCD stayed committed to its recommended target. As a result, HCD only lowered its recommendation by 2,000 units, which was another a major win for housing advocates.
If you’re still following along, can you believe it only got more complicated from here?
With HCD’s 1.34 million homes recommendation, SCAG’s response was to assign the bulk of that new housing growth to far-flung suburban and rural areas far into the desert, like Coachella Valley and Riverside. Coachella may be a place some people go to experience the annual music festival, but it’s not a place where people can live when they work in communities like Santa Monica or Downtown Los Angeles. In its recommended assignment of the 1.34 million new homes, SCAG assigned low housing targets for wealthy, exclusionary cities.
The results of our efforts went beyond even our most optimistic visions. We achieved record attendance at the SCAG Regional Council meeting that took place this week, on November 7th, including 11 of LA City’s 15 Councilmembers, and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. Many advocates and representatives from other coalitions attended as well. After hearing some of the most moving pro-housing speeches in recent memory, the SCAG Regional Council voted in a landslide 43-19 in favor of the plan we were supporting, which the LA Times was calling the “Coastal Plan,” because it assigns larger amounts of housing to jobs-rich coastal cities, and smaller amounts of new housing out in car-dependent suburban regions. The few anti-housing voices who were present and spoke in favor of business as usual were, finally, in the minority.
What happened represented more than just a better direction for the next eight years of housing planning in the region. It was a total culture shift. For the first time ever in L.A. politics, there was a strong consensus on the urgency and necessity of planning for more housing in our core cities, backed up with a meaningful, binding commitment to that goal.
Now, we need to see this process through and ensure that cities do everything they can to meet the state-mandated RHNA targets. Over the next year, every one of the SCAG cities will need to update their General Plan Housing Elements to accommodate their portion of the RHNA forecast, which will mean a major change from business as usual. While some will see these targets negatively, because they represent difficult change and hard work, we see them as a symbol of hope–the first step in relieving our region from out-of-control housing prices and rising GHG emissions.
For this next phase, we will need all of you more than ever. Every single city in the region will be updating their housing plans to accommodate historic growth targets. We need your help to hold them all accountable and ensure that these plans are realistic, equitable, and sustainable.
One of the biggest opportunities with this RHNA process will be its impact on enabling the creation of much more affordable housing, throughout Southern California and especially in coastal areas, but that will only happen in a rational and meaningful way when your city’s leadership hear from you, supporting them doing the right thing. Our engagement in this process over the last several months has achieved significant success, and now is the time that we need each and every one of you to step up in support of city efforts to allow for all this new housing.
Want to learn more about the history of housing in Los Angeles, the facts about the housing crisis, and what we do at AHLA?
Join us for Housing 101 - Introduction to Abundant Housing LA. Great for new members who are interested in learning more, experienced members who want to deepen their understanding of housing issues, and those who are just interested in seeing what we're all about.
Luke Klipp, our Education Director with urban and transit policy experience, will lead a presentation and discussion.... See MoreSee Less