Four little letters, big nightmare for Calif. cities. What is RHNA?

California’s rich enclaves are revolting against a 54-year-old housing law. Here’s an explainer on the Regional Housing Needs Allocation.

California’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation program, known by its acronym RHNA, has made waves recently across the state as cities, such as Huntington Beach, are grappling with how to play by the rules. 

While Huntington Beach notably drew the ire of Gov. Gavin Newsom when he accused the southern California town of not building enough affordable housing, the actual consequences brought on by RHNA to cities that do not fall in line are murky at best. 


The backstory: RHNA dates back to 1969 when the state issued a mandate to all cities and counties requiring them to plan for what their future housing needs will be for all residents. 

  • Local governments are required to adopt housing plans that include the following eight elements: land use, transportation, conservation, noise, open space, safety, environmental justice and housing. 

The big picture: RHNA determines the number of new homes that jurisdictions need to build and includes metrics on affordability in order to meet the community’s housing needs. 

  • For example, the Fresno Council of Governments approved its RHNA plan last November, which calls for over 58,000 over an eight year period ending in 2031. 
  • Fresno is required to build over 16,000 new homes for very low and low income groups, and Clovis is looking at over 4,000 such housing units. 

Why it matters: California ties various funding programs for transportation, infrastructure and  housing to a local government’s compliance with the Housing Element Law portion of RHNA. 

  • Such funds are competitive for cities and counties throughout the state. 
  • Jurisdictions meeting RHNA requirements will often receive extra points on their funding applications to the state, increasing their chances in the process. 
  • State programs that require RHNA requirements include the Community Development Block Grant Program, the Local Housing Trust Fund Program and the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program, among others. 

What we’re watching: For cities like Huntington Beach that have not complied with RHNA, they await whatever consequences the state will try to force on them. 

  • Huntington Beach passed an ordinance last month to contravene RHNA and allowing builders to build affordable housing wherever, not in specified areas that the state requests. The coastal town also voted last week to not approve a housing plan. 
  • California Attorney General Rob Bonta previously warned Huntington Beach that he would take the city to court, a punishment from the state likely to follow any city that does not comply.
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