California Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 29, 2017, signed into law two bills – SB 167/AB 678 (Sen. Nancy Skinner/Assembly Member Raul Bocanegra) and AB 1515 (Assembly Member Tom Daly) – that significantly reform California's Housing Accountability Act (HAA or Act), Cal. Gov. Code §65589.5. These reforms are among the most important of several housing bills signed by the Governor that the California State Legislature enacted in the closing days of the 2017 session. Effective Jan. 1, 2018, these laws will significantly increase the ability of housing developers and housing advocates to secure the approval of much-needed housing projects throughout the state.
The California Legislature has found and declared that a lack of housing "is a critical problem that threatens the economic, environmental, and social quality of life in California," and that "[t]he excessive cost of the state's housing supply is partially caused by activities and policies of many local governments that limit the approval of housing, increase the cost of land for housing, and require that high fees and exactions be paid by producers of housing."1 The Legislature first attempted to combat this trend 35 years ago, in 1982, by enacting the Housing Accountability Act. The Act protects both of the following types of housing development projects:
A very broad range of plaintiffs can sue to enforce the HAA.3 Holland & Knight's West Coast Land Use and Environmental Group has assisted several clients in invoking the HAA to secure approvals for important housing projects. However, as the Legislature has now recognized, the "Legislature's intent in enacting [the HAA] ... in 1982 and in expanding its provisions since then was to significantly increase the approval and construction of new housing for all economic segments of California's communities by meaningfully and effectively curbing the capability of local governments to deny, reduce the density for, or render infeasible housing development projects and emergency shelters."4 Since it is clear that "[t]hat intent has not been fulfilled," the Legislature has now acted to strengthen the Act's requirements.5
The following are highlights of the reforms to the Housing Accountability Act, effective Jan. 1, 2018:
Although anti-housing jurisdictions still have "wiggle room" to try to avoid their legal obligations to help meet the state's housing crisis, the reformed HAA provides project proponents and housing advocates with significantly greater ammunition to promote housing development throughout California. For more information or to find out whether the revised Housing Accountability Act could help your project, please contact Holland & Knight's West Coast Land Use and Environmental Group.
1 Gov. Code §65589.5(a).
2 Local governments may reject or reduce the size of affordable housing development projects only if: 1) the jurisdiction has an approved Housing Element and has met or exceeded its share of its Regional Housing Need Allocation, 2) the project would cause an unavoidable impact on public health or safety that cannot be mitigated in any way other than rejecting the project or reducing its size, 3) rejecting the project is necessary to comply with federal or state law, 4) the area is zoned for agriculture or resource preservation, and there are not adequate water or wastewater facilities to serve the project, or 5) the project is inconsistent with both the jurisdiction's zoning ordinance and general plan land use designation, and other specific criteria also apply. Gov. Code §65589.5(d).
3 Gov. Code §65589.5(k)(1)(A) ("The applicant, a person who would be eligible to apply for residency in the development or emergency shelter, or a housing organization may bring an action to enforce this section.")
4 Gov. Code §65589.5(a)(2)(K).
6 Gov. Code §65589.5(f)(1)(4).
7 Honchariw v. County of Stanislaus, 218 Cal.App.4th 1019, 1037 (2013).
Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult competent legal counsel.
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