Sustainable Communities Strategy—Regional planning for our future
As the vice president of ABAG 2011, Susan is working with Marin and other Bay Area elected members to address some of the challenging aspects in determining local housing allocations as distributed by the state. The State’s Housing and Community Development Agency (HCD) calculates the future growth in our state and determines the number of housing units in all income categories needed to address the growth.
The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA, also referred to phonetically as “reena”) is determined using data such as the census count, number of jobs created, population growth through birth and migration, etc. The state allocates these numbers to local regions and in particular to the local councils of governments (COGs) in the state. Sacramento, San Diego, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area have COGs. The SF Bay Area’s COG is the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). ABAG takes the numbers distributed by the state and begins to work on the methodology to decide how our 101 cities and towns and 9 counties will meet the state’s RHNA allocation.
The original state legislation was created in part to address the concerns that a full range of housing was not being built to address the growth in our region and in the state. The types and numbers of jobs being created contribute to the calculation of the final housing numbers. Cities derive much of their revenues through sales taxes from retail. Retail sales jobs typically pay lower wages e.g. Big Box retail. Lower paying jobs also create the obligation to build the housing for the workers in those jobs.
People are commuting longer distances to find affordable housing away from their work and contributing to traffic gridlock and greenhouse gas emissions. SB375 adds a new dimension to the housing element by linking air quality and emissions . . . jobs, housing and transportation links . . . to the calculation. The regulators determine what can and can not count as housing and decide how to allocate the housing numbers based on the range of factors for a range of housing at a variety of income levels.
In a county like Marin, which is suburban/rural, where growth has been slow and where land prices are expensive, creative options for creating the full range of housing are currently not allowed to be counted. For example, the Habitat for Humanity conversions of blighted housing into deed restricted affordable housing is not counted. The conversions the county made in Southern Marin from market rate to affordable housing was only given credit for ¼ of the conversions. Senior assisted living units for our rapidly aging population; co-operative housing for those who need wrap around services and some types of farm worker housing are not counted, yet we need to consider the housing needs for all of our community as we plan for how we will or will not grow.
What we now have is a state imposed one size fits all dysfunctional approach to creating sustainable communities. ABAG is trying to address this through the Sustainable Communities Strategy where growth is being directed toward the more urbanized areas where transit and jobs are located. Preserving the open spaces and agricultural areas as a region is also important so we don’t end up with the sprawl of southern California. But if we are growing jobs and our population in Marin, we will also share a small part of the regional obligation to create the housing for the people who will be living and working in our communities. San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland have taken on tens of thousands of units in the past cycle and will likely bear much of the burden for the regional development going forward.
Our board sent a letter to our state legislators and is working with our lobbyist to change Marin’s designation from urban to suburban which would change the requirement of 30 units per acre to 20 units per acre. Our board also set a legislative agenda and gave direction to our lobbyist to address the way we are able to count our housing in our community to be more reflective of local needs. Our state legislators need to take up the cause with us. There are many powerful forces in the state that will continue to argue against what we are asking and it will take political courage from Assemblymember Huffman and Senator Leno to push forward with us. We remain committed to pushing for this in my role at ABAG.
There will also be opportunities for the public to become more engaged in the “Sustainable Communities” process in the coming months, which started with a kick off presentation that the Transportation Authority of Marin meeting 2/24 at 7 PM at the Civic Center. To view this, you can go to the G Channel: http://www.co.marin.ca.us/g-channel/Default.aspx or http://www.tam.ca.gov/index.aspx?page=185