Housing Elements

Since 1969, California has required that all local governments (cities and counties) adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community. California’s local governments meet this requirement by adopting housing plans as part of their “general plan” (also required by the state). General plans serve as the local government’s "blueprint" for how the city and/or county will grow and develop and include seven elements: land use, transportation, conservation, noise, open space, safety, and housing.

California’s housing-element law acknowledges that, in order for the private market to adequately address the housing needs and demand of Californians, local governments must adopt plans and regulatory systems that provide opportunities for (and do not unduly constrain), housing development. As a result, housing policy in California rests largely on the effective implementation of local general plans and, in particular, local housing elements.

On this page:

Background

Why It Matters

Updating a jurisdiction’s housing element, while important to meeting one of the most basic needs of Californians, can be daunting, and a lot is at stake. Individuals and families are directly affected by each jurisdiction’s ability to plan for the housing needs of those who will live, work, and play in every community.

State funding programs for transportation, infrastructure, and housing often require or consider a local jurisdiction’s compliance with housing element law. These competitive funds can be used for fixing roads, adding bike lanes, improving transit, or providing much needed affordable housing to communities. In some cases, funding from state/federal housing programs can only be accessed if the jurisdiction has a compliant housing element. In other cases, a compliant housing element is not a requirement in order to apply for funding; however, those applying for funding will receive extra points on their application if they do have a compliant housing element (thereby increasing their chances in the competitive application process).

State funding programs that require a local jurisdiction’s housing element compliance include:

State funding programs that incentivize greater coordination with housing planning, include:

In order to create a housing plan (aka housing element) showing it could meet the local housing needs, a jurisdiction must first know how much housing it must plan for (and estimate how much will be needed at a variety of affordability levels in order to match the needs of the people who will live there). This is determined by a process called the regional housing needs assessment.

The Role of the California Department of Housing and Community Development

The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) plays the critical role of reviewing every local government’s housing element to determine whether it complies with state law and then submits written findings back to each local government. HCD’s approval is required before a local government can adopt its housing element as part of its overall General Plan.

Jurisdictions can opt to update their housing elements every five years or every eight years. The option to use an eight-year schedule was created to better align with the schedule local governments (or COGs/MPOs) have to meet to update their Regional Transportation Plans (which are updated every four years) now mandated to align with housing plans in Regional Sustainable Communities Strategies.

Housing-Element Update Cycles

To date, there have been five previous housing element update “cycles.” California is now in its sixth “housing-element update cycle.”

Housing Element Process and Public Comment Submission

Housing Element Process

  • Update previous housing element.
  • New! Public Participation Requirements: Prior to submittal of the first draft within a planning period to HCD, the local government must make the draft available for public comment for 30 days and if any comments were received, take at least 10 business days to consider and incorporate public comments.
  • Submit draft to HCD for review/approval.
  • Revise and adopt (or adopt without changes).
  • New! Transparency Requirements: For any subsequent revisions, the local government must post the draft revision on its website and email a link to all individuals and organizations that have previously requested notices relating to the local government’s housing element at least seven days before submitting the draft revision to HCD.
  • Submit revised draft/adopted housing element to HCD.

Learn more in Building Blocks: Comprehensive Housing-Element Guide.

Housing Element Completeness Checklist (PDF) — Optional tool outlining the statutory requirement of Housing Element Law to assist jurisdictions in the preparation of the housing element.

New! Consequences for Late Housing Elements — Jurisdictions that fail to adopt a housing element that has been found in substantial compliance within 120 days of the statutory deadline to revise the housing element must complete all necessary rezones within one year of that statutory deadline. This means both that jurisdictions must adopt the housing element and that the housing element must be found in compliance (meaning a letter from HCD affirming compliance) with Housing Element Law by HCD within 120 days of the statutory deadline, or they will need to complete rezones within one year of their housing element due date (as opposed to three years) to maintain housing element compliance. Jurisdictions that adopt more than one year from the statutory deadline cannot be found in substantial compliance with Housing Element Law until the local government has completed any required rezoning.

Public Comments

As part of its review of the housing element, HCD must consider any written comments received from any public agency, group, or person. If an organization or individual plans to provide comments to HCD on a jurisdiction’s housing element, early contact with the assigned review staff member is encouraged to ensure that HCD is aware of this intent. To ensure that HCD has sufficient time to consider comments in the review of the housing element, written comments should be provided within the first 30 days of the review. Written comments can be provided directly to the assigned HCD Analyst or emailed to HousingElements@hcd.ca.gov.

Receive Updates

Sign up to receive a weekly listing of housing elements received by HCD, sign up by clicking this link HCD Email Signup (ca.gov) and selecting the box labeled “Housing Element Review Notification."

Housing Element Submittal

To submit the housing element to HCD, local governments have two options:

  • Hard Copy Submittal – Please send one hard copy of the housing element to HCD with a cover letter indicating if the element is a draft or adopted element. Please also include an electronic version (USB Flash drive) with the submittal.
  • Email Submittal – Send the housing element to HousingElements@hcd.ca.gov with a cover letter indicating if the element is a draft or adopted element. Please mail a subsequent hard copy for the files. Please note, some elements will be too large to be received through the email system. Please ensure your element was received by the system. HCD has limited capacity to receive elements through google docs or other similar download links. Elements that are too large will be required to be mailed.

    The housing element will be logged for review on the business date received. Housing elements received after business hours will be logged for review on the next business day.

All hard copies of the housing element can be sent to:
State Department of Housing and Community Development
C/O Land Use and Planning Unit
2020 W. El Camino Ave, Suite 500
Sacramento, CA 95833

Housing Element Submittal Requirements:

For first draft submittals: With the first draft submittal, please include in the cover letter how the local government complies with new public participation requirements pursuant to AB 215 (Chapter 342, Statutes of 2021). AB 215 requires that prior to submittal of the first draft to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), the local government must make the draft available for public comment for 30 days and if any comments were received, take at least 10 business days to consider and incorporate public comments. Please note, HCD cannot review any first draft submittals that have not demonstrated completion with this requirement. The housing element will be considered submitted to HCD on the date that documentation has been received verifying compliance with AB 215 public participation requirements.

For revised submittals (draft or revised adopted): To facilitate the review of revisions to address HCD findings, HCD requests submittal of a version of the housing element that clearly shows the changes between the previous housing element submittal and the new revised version. In addition, in the element or in a cover letter, please indicate compliance with AB 215 requirements to post the draft revision on the local government’s website and to email a link to all individuals and organizations that have previously requested notices relating to the local government’s housing element at least seven days before submitting the draft revision to HCD. Please note, any revisions received during the course of HCD's review are also subject to the seven day posting requirement prior to submittal to HCD.

For adopted housing elements: With the adopted element submittal, please attach a copy of the resolution adopting the housing element. In addition, pursuant to SB 6 (Chapter 667, Statutes of 2019), for a housing element or amendment adopted on or after January 1, 2021, the planning agency shall submit to HCD an electronic copy of its inventory of these parcels using standards, forms, and definitions adopted by HCD (see below). Electronic sites inventories should be submitted to sitesinventory@hcd.ca.gov with the submittal of the adopted element.

Technical Assistance and Resources

Building Blocks: A Comprehensive Housing-Element Guide

Updating a jurisdiction’s housing element, while important to meeting one of the most basic needs of Californians, can be daunting; and yet, the importance of housing elements to individuals and families, communities, and those who build homes and apartments is undeniable. So, HCD has created Building Blocks: A Comprehensive Housing-Element Guide to assist jurisdictions in creating comprehensive housing elements.

Other Technical Assistance and Resources

In addition to the Building Blocks, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) offers a broad and comprehensive range of technical assistance and resources to help jurisdictions prepare their housing elements, including:

  • HCD Memos including updates to housing-element law and technical advisory memos
  • HCD Housing Planning HUB including checklists regional toolkits, factsheets, and guidance on a variety of housing policy areas

HCD staff will also visit communities and help jurisdictions identify resources to develop and implement their housing elements.

Sites Inventory Form and Instructions

Government Code (GC) Section 65583(a)(3) requires local governments to prepare an inventory of land suitable for residential development, including vacant sites and sites having the potential for redevelopment, and an analysis of the relationship of zoning and public facilities and services to these sites. That inventory must identify specific sites or parcels that are available for residential development. Pursuant to SB 6 (Chapter 667, Statutes of 2019), for a housing element or amendment adopted on or after January 1, 2021, the planning agency shall submit to HCD an electronic copy of its inventory of these parcels using standards, forms, and definitions adopted by HCD. Please note, this form was revised on 05/10/2022 to improve data formatting. The prior form will continue to be accepted if you already began preparing your sites inventory on the prior form, but we encourage use of the current form as much as possible.

The following is the sites inventory form and instructions. Questions can be submitted to sitesinventory@hcd.ca.gov.

Every Five Years vs. Every Eight Years

To strengthen the connection between housing and transportation planning, SB 375 made changes to better align the schedules for regional housing needs assessments and local government housing-element updates with schedules for adopting regional transportation plans (RTPs). The transportation planning requirements included in Government Code Section 65080 apply to 18 federally designated metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in California covering 37 counties and representing approximately 98 percent of the statewide population. MPO schedules to adopt RTPs that determine regional housing needs assessments and housing-element due dates are differentiated as follows:
MPOs:

  • Non-Attainment Designation: “Non-attainment” MPOs adopt RTPs every four years. Regional housing needs assessments and housing-element schedules must be coordinated with every other RTP, requiring housing elements be updated every eight years and no later than 18 months after RTP adoption.
  • Attainment Designation: “Attainment” MPOs adopt RTPs every five years. SB 375 did not link or change regional housing needs assessment and housing-element update schedules based on RTP adoption date. Housing elements are required to be updated every five years and adopted by the due date specified in statute. However, attainment MPOs or regional transportation planning agencies may elect, to update RTPs on a four-year schedule that would change the housing-element schedule from five to eight years.

However, the local government must:

  • have submitted a draft housing element to HCD;
  • HCD must have issued findings; and
  • the local government must have considered the findings prior to adoption of the housing element.

Housing Elements Open Data Tools

Every effort is made to ensure that the information in these reports is complete and up to date. Please contact HCD regarding concerns relating to the accuracy of any listing. Compliant housing elements are required to qualify for funding from many state and federal housing programs. If you have questions about your eligibility to apply for state or federal housing funds based on the compliance status of your jurisdiction's housing element, please contact HCD at 916.263.7420 or 916.263.7422.

Housing Element & Regional Needs Determination

Track when local governments are required to have a final adopted housing element (local housing plan) that is certified by HCD in order to maintain compliance with Housing Element Law.

Housing Element & Regional Needs Determination

Housing Element Download Tool

Download housing elements (local housing plans) submitted to HCD to learn about localities’ plans to address development constraints and meet future housing need.

Housing Element Download Tool

Housing Element Review & Compliance Report

Track housing elements (local housing plans) currently under review by HCD and whether plans are in or out of compliance with state housing law.

Housing Element Review & Compliance Report

Housing Element Review Letters

Links to review letters are updated in this spreadsheet within one week from the date the letter was sent to each jurisdiction. (Please note: To request review letters sent prior to January 1, 2020, contact HCD at 916.263.2911 or email cahouse@hcd.ca.gov.)

Housing Element Review Letters