Bakersfield’s RHNA outlook presents a tough standard to meet

Building affordable housing in Bakersfield to comply with the state’s standards might not be financially feasible for Kern County’s largest city.

Bakersfield faces a tough challenge ahead meeting California’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) standards. 

While the city is in compliance with state law, finding the money to actually see the plan through is another story altogether. 


The backstory: RHNA requires local governments to adopt housing plans as part of their general plans, which include a requirement for a number of affordable and multi-unit housing. 

The big picture: Bakersfield’s RHNA plan has ordered the city to build over 37,400 homes through the end of 2031 in order to be in compliance with state law. 

  • That comes out to 4,600 new homes annually, and the city can only approve permits and zoning for housing, not actually build homes itself. 
  • Of its total RHNA requirement, over 18,000 of the new homes have to be under the affordable housing umbrella for low-income and very-low income residents. 
  • The highest number of permits Bakersfield has approved recently came in 2021 at 2,552, according to a report by the Bakersfield Californian. Last year the city approved 1,150 new permits. 

State of play: City officials on the Budget and Finance Committee presented to the city council recently and said it would cost $5.5 billion in total over the eight-year period to meet the state’s RHNA requirement. 

  • But the city only has $31.5 million to use this year in its housing trust fund, and half of that total came from one-time funding through the American Rescue Plan Act. 

    What we’re watching: If Bakersfield does not find a way to meet the steep RHNA standards, it could follow in the footsteps of Huntington Beach and Clovis and face lawsuits from the state or its own residents. 

    What they’re saying: Bakersfield Assistant Director for Economic Development Jennifer Byers told the council that housing developments take time to complete, signaling that the city could find itself on the outs with Gov. Gavin Newsom and his administration. 

    • “With a building permit in hand and shovel in the ground, that’s one and a half years,” Byers said.
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