Housing Element Update | FAQ

What is the Housing Element?

The Housing Element is one of the state-mandated elements of the General Plan. It identifies the City’s housing conditions and needs, establishes the goals, objectives, and policies that are the foundation of the City’s housing strategy, and provides an array of programs to create sustainable, mixed-income neighborhoods across the City.

Why update the Housing Element?

California State law requires that Los Angeles update the Citywide Housing Element every eight years. These frequent updates are required because housing is critical to ensure economic prosperity and quality of life in our region. The revised Housing Element must be adopted by the Los Angeles City Council no later than October 2021, or the City of Los Angeles could lose eligibility for significant sources of funding currently provided by the State.

What is included in a Housing Element?

The components of the Housing Element are largely dictated by the State. The following chapters must be included:

  • A detailed analysis of the City’s demographic, economic and housing characteristics.
  • A comprehensive analysis of constraints to producing and preserving housing.
  • A review of the City’s progress in implementing current housing policies and programs.
  • An identification of goals, objectives, and policies, in addition to a full list of programs that will implement the vision of the plan.
  • A list of sites that could accommodate new housing, demonstrating the City’s ability to meet our Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA)

Because the Housing Element is updated frequently, the previous element provides a foundation for this update. This update gives us the opportunity to evaluate the previous element and determine which parts have been effective and which should be improved. Read the 2013-2021 Housing Element for more information on existing policies and programs. Read the draft 2021-2029 Housing Element and check out the What Does the Plan Do for information on proposed policies and programs.

Racial Equity: How does the Housing Element Update plan on addressing Racial Equity?

Equity has been a driving principal of the Los Angeles Housing Element and General Plan for several decades. For this upcoming Housing Element cycle, all local governments are required to comply with AB 686, a State law establishing that all programs and activities in a Housing Element affirmatively further fair housing. California is the only state in the nation with such a law. It defines “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” as taking meaningful actions to:

  • Combat discrimination
  • Overcome patterns of discrimination
  • Foster inclusive communities
  • Specifies that actions must both replace segregated living patterns with integration and transform areas with racial and poverty concentration

To further explore how the Housing Element centers Racial Equity in its work, read the What Does the Plan Do handout.

Covid: How will the approach to housing LA change in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak?

There is growing consensus among public officials that overcrowded housing - and the economic reasons that drive high rates of overcrowding - put individuals and neighborhoods at risk of COVID-19. The economic insecurity brought about by the pandemic has also focused attention on the importance of housing stability, resulting in City action to provide strong COVID-19 rental protections and emergency rental assistance.

Overcrowding arises when there are not enough housing units available and affordable for all the people who want their own homes. Lower-income individuals and families are disproportionately more likely to live in overcrowded conditions. Lower-income individuals and families are also more likely to work in “essential industries” that can not be performed from home and are more likely to have pre-existing health conditions.

Although we are still understanding the short and long term implications of the public health crisis, we acknowledge that LA is home to some of the most overcrowded neighborhoods in the country. Like other markers of instability such as homelessness and paying too much for housing, overcrowding is primarily a response to the region’s housing shortage and particularly the lack of affordable housing. The Housing Element update seeks to plan to address these existing housing and reduce overcrowding and a way that addresses public health issues. Several programs relating to housing stability and healthy housing have also been added and strengthened in the draft Housing Element.

More resources related to the city’s effort to address the immediate needs of residents impacted by Covid-19 can be found here.

How can the public be involved in this process?

The success of this update requires extensive community input and engagement. There will be multiple opportunities to participate throughout the update, both in person and online. Please sign up to be notified of the next meeting or opportunity for online input.

To comment on the Draft Housing Element, please submit an email to the team at HousingElement@lacity.org. Comments will be accepted until September 22nd, after which additional comments may be submitted by email to the City Planning Commission at cpc@lacity.org.

What is RHNA?

RHNA stands for “Regional Housing Needs Assessment.” Every eight years, the State of California provides the number of housing units that should be accommodated in the Southern California region. The Southern California Regional Association of Governments (SCAG) takes that larger number and devises a methodology to allocate the units among Los Angeles and surrounding areas. As a part of the Housing Element, Los Angeles must demonstrate to the State that there is available zoning capacity for the units allocated to the City.

This year, the regional allocation, and therefore our Los Angeles City allocation, was significantly larger than it has been in past years. This large allocation was a result of the State responding to the housing crisis by considering both “projected need” (i.e., units we need to accommodate new residents) and “existing need” (i.e., units we need to alleviate challenges like overcrowding and homelessness). The allocation also takes affordability into account by identifying the percentage of units that are needed at each income level (very low, low, and moderate). To learn more about the RHNA and the Housing Element’s inventory or sites to meet the RHNA, click here.

How is affordable housing defined?

In broad terms, affordability is simply the relationship between housing costs and income. The generally accepted measure for housing affordability is spending less than 30% of one’s gross household income on housing costs (including utilities, principle and interest). As we plan for LA’s future housing needs through the RHNA process (explained above) we must plan housing for restricted affordable units for households defined as very low income, low income, and moderate income.

The cost of restricted affordable units is based on the current Area Median Income (AMI) in Los Angeles County, which in 2019 was $70,950. From the AMI, income categories are defined as follows:

  • Extremely Low Income: Less than 30% of AMI
  • Very Low Income: Between 30% and 50% of AMI
  • Low Income: Between 50% and 80% of AMI
  • Moderate Income: Between 80% and 120% of AMI

For up to date rent limits visit HCIDLA’s website by clicking here.

How can I find Affordable Housing?

Visit www.housing.lacity.org or call (877) 428-8844 (711 for TTY Assistance).

What is the RHNA Allocation?

In accordance with SCAG’s RHNA Allocation Plan, adopted in March 2020, the City’s 2021-2029 Housing Element must accommodate a total of 456,643 units, of which 184,721 units must be affordable to lower income households (Very Low and Low). To ensure that sufficient capacity exists in the Housing Element to accommodate the RHNA throughout the planning period, the draft plan sets a target capacity (or buffer) that is 10% higher than the RHNA for lower income units, and 15% higher than the RHNA for moderate income units. This results in a target capacity for the Adequate Sites Inventory and Rezoning Program of 486,379 units. To learn more about the RHNA and inventory or sites click here.

Will the RHNA allocation change or be adjusted?

On March 4, 2021 the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) Regional Council acted to approve the 6th cycle draft RHNA methodology and allocations. No further modifications will be made.

Does RHNA require us to build housing?

Through the RHNA process, we must show that the City has the regulatory and land use policies to accommodate housing needs, but the actual development of housing is largely conducted by the private market. The Housing Element is required to demonstrate potential sites where housing can be accommodated. Identification of a site’s capacity does not guarantee that construction will occur on that site. If there are insufficient sites and capacity to meet the RHNA allocation, then the Housing Element is required to identify a rezoning program to create the required capacity. It is important to note that if we fall significantly behind on our RHNA targets, the City of Los Angeles could be deemed out of compliance and risk losing important sources of funding currently provided by the State.

How will the City select RHNA sites?

The City is required to submit a list of sites that collectively demonstrate enough zoning capacity to meet our RHNA allocation. The city uses a methodology to determine which sites best meet state criteria. The RHNA list of sites is meant to demonstrate realistic zoning capacity, therefore only sites that that city reasonably believes could redevelop are included. This is very different from a maximum buildout calculation that would assume all residentially zoned sites will redevelop into the maximum allowable density housing. As inclusion on the inventory of sites is reflective of existing potential, it does not mean a site is being “targeted for growth”, rather it indicates that development is already permissible on a site.

For the 6th cycle state law on how sites are selected has changed. Recent guidance from the state makes clear that a new type of methodology is required to come up with a more realistic development potential, particularly for non-vacant sites . The city released a draft methodology in Spring 2021, to learn more about how sites were selected read the What to Know about: RHNA, Site Selection, and Rezoning or the full Chapter 4. Adequate Sites for Housing.

What is the RHNA Rezoning Program?

The City is currently working to develop it’s RHNA rezoning program to rezone at least 255,415 units in the next three years and is seeking public input on how best to accomplish this ambitious goal. The draft Rezoning Program proposes an equitable rezoning strategy which will increase density and allowances for housing, particularly in resource-rich neighborhoods, while protecting vulnerable and ecologically sensitive communities. Learn more about the proposed strategies in Chapter 4 of the Draft 2021-2029 Housing Element.

How is the Housing Element implemented?

The Housing Element sets goals, objectives, policies, and programs that are implemented after the plan is adopted. For example, the 2013-2021 Housing Element directed the City to advance programs like the TOC Incentive Program and Affordable Housing Linkage Fee—both of which were recently implemented. Additionally, policies such as the Permanent Supportive Housing and Interim Motel Conversion Ordinances provide pathways to housing homeless individuals and families, as directed by Goal 4 ("Ending and Preventing Homelessness") of the current Housing Element. When a new program, project, or idea is considered, the Housing Element provides guidance for decision makers to evaluate the proposal.

How does the Housing Element relate to other planning efforts including Community Plan Updates?

Community Plans establish neighborhood-specific goals and implementation strategies to achieve the broad objectives laid out in the City's General Plan. Community plans are land use elements of the General plan. The Housing element and the Land Use element should be consistent. While the Housing Element lays the groundwork for Citywide housing policy and programming, the Community Plan updates continue to carry out those policies and programs relating to housing access, preservation, and production. There are currently 16 active Community Plan Updates and the Housing Element is working closely with community planning teams.

What kind of outreach strategies are being developed to engage with hard to reach communities?

The Housing Element Update involves a 2-year outreach strategy which is designed to reach communities and neighborhoods that have historically been underrepresented in previous Housing Element updates. The outreach process is designed to host all events in both English and Spanish, in addition to other languages identified by individual communities. The city has been intentional about engaging communities of varying races, ages, and neighborhoods of Los Angeles by developing a multidimensional Task Force and partnering with local nonprofits and religious institutions to help get the word out.