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.

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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

  • Update previous housing element.
  • Submit draft to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for review/approval.
  • Revise and adopt (or adopt without changes).
  • Submit adopted housing element to HCD.

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

New! 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.

Housing-Element Submittal

To submit the housing element to HCD, local government 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. The housing element will be logged for review on the date the hard copy was received.
  • 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.

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

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.

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.

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

Update Schedule

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:

  • 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.

For jurisdictions on eight-year planning cycle: SB 375 specifies that if a local government on an eight-year planning cycle fails to adopt its housing element within 120 days of the statutory due date, the jurisdiction will be required to update its housing element every four years until it adopts at least two consecutive revisions by the applicable due dates. The SB 375 120-day deadline does not mandate that the adopted housing element has to be first (a) submitted to HCD, (b) reviewed by HCD, or (c) found in compliance by HCD within the 120-day timeframe.

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.

Status and Copies of All Housing Elements

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Housing Element Search Tool — View the most current housing elements received electronically by HCD.

Housing-element review letters sent to jurisdictions (XLS) — 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.)

Every effort is made to ensure that the information in these report is complete and up-to-date. Please contact HCD regarding concerns relating to the accuracy of any listing. Compliant housing elements are required in order 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.

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."

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.