S.E. Williams Contributor

Southern California Associated Government’s (SCAG’s) decision on Thursday, November 7, 2019 to shift the focus for new housing in Southern California away from the inland region and toward coastal communities in the coming decade was significant.

Under the plan, Los Angeles and Orange Counties will be responsible for building about one million new houses in the next decade—nearly triple the amount of new housing assigned collectively to the inland counties of Riverside and San Bernardino.

State law requires SCAG to reassess housing needs every eight years based on a variety of factors including projected population growth. What is curious about the law, however, is that although it has no authority to mandate building to meet projected housing requirements, it does require zoning allocations be such that should the building occur, there is enough available land to accommodate it.  

SCAG is an organization of municipalities who have banded together under law to jointly exercise power over issues common to all of them.  The SCAG region consists of six counties and represents nearly 19 million residents across Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, Los Angeles, Imperial and Ventura. 

The housing forecast approved by SCAG on Thursday was in part driven by concerns over the growing threats posed by a changing climate.  The importance of building homes nearer to transit and job centers to help reduce long commutes that are most conducive to increased carbon emissions. This concern played an important role in SCAG’s decision to push for greater housing growth in coastal communities as opposed to building a greater number of homes in the inland region.

Those who see it differently advocated for more job growth in the inland region where there is more affordable land available to accommodate housing growth as opposed to coastal communities where buildable land is at a premium and costs are exorbitant.  

After some back and forth—which is normal during the RHNA process—HCD last month set the final determination for the SCAG region at 1,341,827 units.
– Steve Lambert, SCAG Communications Manager

In January, an executive order signed by Governor Gavin Newsom authorized the creation of an inventory of surplus state lands where affordable housing might be built. Ultimately, this may help ease the way for development in some coastal communities.

SCAG’s decision about the allocation of housing development in the coming years was the result of long and arduous negotiations which began in August when the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) released a Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) report.  

The report determined between 2021 and 2029, the six SCAG counties needed to prepare for the development of approximately 1.34 million additional housing units–41.4 percent of which would be for low-income or very low-income residents. 

In early September, SCAG filed an objection to HCD’s report related to the methodology used. The objection declared, “HCD did not use the appropriate population forecasts for their determination of the SCAG region’s housing needs and did not conduct a reasonable application of the methodology and assumptions pursuant to statute.”

The state’s estimate of the need for 1.34 million additional housing units in Southern California apparently considered population growth, the population of households and projected households, as well as the state’s overcrowding and vacancy percentages. SCAG on the other hand purportedly estimated population growth will result in a need for between 821,000 to 924,000 new homes.

In an exchange with The IE Voice/Black Voice News, SCAG Communications Manager Steve Lambert explained, “After some back and forth—which is normal during the RHNA process—HCD last month set the final determination for the SCAG region at 1,341,827 units.”

In the plan approved by SCAG on Thursday, Los Angeles and Orange Counties combined will be responsible for growing their housing capacity by more than a million new homes in the coming years. This is more than triple the future housing expectations for San Bernardino and Riverside Counties combined. 

When David Wert, spokesperson for San Bernardino County, was asked about SCAG’s decision he said, “[T]he county did not take a position on increasing the numbers in coastal communities.” , Now that this part of SCAG’s process is complete, HCD must review and approve it. SCAG looks for the new housing allocation process to be completed sometime next year. 

Despite the growing and critical demand for housing across the state, many still feel much needed housing projects will continue to face challenges. Roadblocks to building include neighborhood opposition (Not in My Back Yard or NIMBY), the rising cost of land, growing construction costs and related fees, in additional to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements. 

It remains unclear what impact, if any, SCAG’s decision to shift the region’s new housing focus away from the inland region and toward coastal communities will have on inland area economies.