A lawsuit filed by YIMBY Action argues the state has underestimated the amount of housing the Bay Area needs to produce by as much as 138,000 units. (Shutterstock)

A lawsuit filed by YIMBY Action argues the state has underestimated the amount of housing the Bay Area needs to produce by as much as 138,000 units. (Shutterstock)

Housing advocates challenge state’s calculation of Bay Area housing needs

San Francisco housing advocacy group YIMBY Action filed a lawsuit Thursday in Alameda County Superior Court asserting that the calculations the state used in projecting Bay Area housing needs for the next decade are flawed.

The mistake “severely” underestimates the number of needed housing units, plaintiffs allege, and will interfere with local efforts to create zoning and land use plans that will accommodate sufficient units to meet the real need.

“If we win this lawsuit,” Ryan J. Patterson, counsel for plaintiffs said, “it could mean 138,000 additional homes for the Bay Area. People wouldn’t have to commute from Modesto to San Francisco just to have affordable housing. Greenhouse gas emissions would be significantly reduced. Californians would have more opportunities for jobs and more time to spend with their families.”

According to the plaintiffs’ filing, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) is required by state law to prepare an estimate of regional housing needs for the period from June 30, 2021 through 2030, taking into account a variety of specific housing and related information.

If additional housing units are needed according to HDC’s estimate, the needed units are then allocated among the cities and towns within the region. Those local governments are then required to modify their land use plans to make sure that their allocation of the needed units can be accommodated.

According to the plaintiffs, California law requires HDC to take into account information concerning “the relationship between jobs and housing, including any imbalance” within the region.

Plaintiffs allege that HDC failed to do so, thereby underestimating needed housing in the Bay Area over the projection period by between 86,000 to 138,000 units.

State law law requires consideration of an imbalance between jobs and housing, plaintiffs allege, because if there are more jobs than affordable housing, workers are forced to live further away from their jobs. Their commuting then produces more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.

Plaintiffs say the phenomena of workers living distantly from their work is referred to in the real estate industry as “drive till they qualify,” in reference to “what a growing number of Californians have to do to find housing they can afford.”

Sonja Trauss, executive director of YIMBY, said that the organization had meetings with HDC before filing the suit, but HDC’s representatives said “we feel confident that we followed the law” and would not agree to change the calculation.

She added, “they told us sort of different things. One thing was that they didn’t really know how to do the job. They didn’t really have an idea for a methodology.”

According to Trauss, this isn’t the first time HDC failed to include the information. “They were supposed to have done it last cycle, 8 or 10 years ago, …and they just didn’t.”

Plaintiffs’ filing says that they do not seek an injunction against the allocation of the housing units covered by the allegedly flawed determination, but rather an order requiring HDC to supplement its prior determination to take into account the information it failed to utilize.

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