What is a Housing Element?

This is a critical moment for California and the US to make pivotal progress on climate change by modernizing local policies to build more housing.
At the local level, a crucial process you may not have heard about is the . Right now, every city in California is gearing up to update the Housing Element chapter of their , which establishes the vision for how each city and county will grow. This process ensures that communities adequately prepare for how they will meet one of the most basic needs of all Californians: housing, and it only happens every 8 years. The challenge of building enough housing to bridge the gap also brings opportunity for cities to incorporate climate policies into their Housing Element by building the right kind of housing in the right places while protecting open spaces.


Why Is the Housing Element so Important If You Care About the Climate?
The Housing Element has become increasingly important as the state—and especially the Bay Area—continues to face a major housing shortage. While this problem has many root causes, exclusionary zoning policies are a key barrier that the Housing Element update can help address. These restrictive policies force people to find homes they can afford outside of the areas in which they work and, consequently, drive up (GHG) that could be curbed with a shorter commute and accessibility to public transportation.

When we do not create enough homes at all income levels, prices go up, and working-class and low-income families are unable to afford to live in the communities they have resided in for generations. This continued upward pressure on the cost of housing means that Bay Area residents are finding it harder to afford to own a home. California is short over 3.5 million homes according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute. In the Bay Area, the gap is almost half a million homes, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The shortage and inaccessible prices force more workers to become super commuters—people who have to drive more than 90 minutes to get to work. The lack of affordable housing close to jobs also puts pressure for sprawl development in where wildfire risk is more pronounced.

We need to build more development and create incentives for the public and private sectors to build affordable, infill housing with alternative forms of transportation and ample green infrastructure like bioswales, carbon-sequestering trees (that provide canopy cover and can mitigate the urban heat island effect), and native plants that can provide habitat and other nature-based solutions. Encouraging can reduce travel time, travel costs, and the GHG emissions responsible for elevating the risks of climate change.
To achieve the growth our region needs while protecting open spaces, biodiversity, and current and future residents, Greenbelt Alliance recommends the following policies and priorities to guide the Housing Element process in alignment with our mission to educate, advocate, and collaborate to ensure the Bay Area’s lands and communities are resilient to a changing climate.

Word Cloud of Housing Element Tracking
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