Irvine Begins Housing Element Update Process

On February 9, 2021, the Irvine city council held a virtual public meeting to discuss the current Housing Element Update process. This scoping session provided the council and public with information about the Housing Element, Irvine’s new Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation, and the actions and timelines required by the State of California.

What is the Housing Element Update?

Irvine’s General Plan includes a required chapter (element) on housing and affordable housing. The Housing Element is the city’s “housing plan.” It must provide goals, objectives, policies, and implementation programs that demonstrate how Irvine will meet its existing and future housing needs for all income levels.

California requires that cities have a Housing Element that is updated every eight years and conforms to the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation requirements. The RHNA allocation is a regional forecast of future housing needs and capacity. The current sixth cycle (for years 2021-2029) of RHNA allocation for Irvine requires the city to plan to develop 23,554 housing units.

Options for the City to Consider

This allocation significantly increases the previous RHNA cycle allocation of 12,149 units. As a result, Irvine appealed to the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). The city’s final argument was based on data used by SCAG provided by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), which forecasts two possible High-Quality Transportation Areas (HQTA) for Irvine in the future. These are identified in the OCTA’s 2045 Vision Plan and are included in their long-term project list, but these Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes do not exist today, and there is no guarantee they will ever be developed. Despite this, SCAG denied the city’s Appeal, and the final RHNA requirements are expected to be approved in March.

Developing this number of units in the next eight years will be challenging. The extremely-low (Category 1) and very-low (Category 2) income units are the most expensive to build, and meeting those specific RHNA requirements will especially difficult.

Here are a few options Irvine may need to consider to meet the new state requirement:

  • Zoning changes, planning changes, and increased density.
  • The greater use of discretionary Conditional Use Permits, density bonuses, and variances per-project basis.
  • The greater use of mixed-use developments has retail on the bottom and housing above. Transient Occupancy Developments (TOC) are beneficial when located on transportation corridors and adjacent to transit centers.
  • Mixed-use development could also redevelop and activate some of our aging retail areas or made a requirement for some new retail development.
  • A fresh look at the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance. Currently, it requires that specific projects “set-aside” 15% of their units to be affordable or requires that the developer pay an In-Lieu-of fee that would be used to finance affordable housing. The 15% set-aside and the In-Lieu-of fee amounts can be reconsidered for increases.
  • The use of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s) increases the number of units in Single Family Residential (SFR) zoned areas. (ADU’s are now allowed in SFR zoned areas under state law)

Some states and cities are considering the elimination of SFR-only zoning (sometimes referred to as R1). For example, in the last legislative session, California lawmakers considered Senate Bill 1120, a measure that would have allowed two residential units to be built on parcels currently zoned for single-family homes. Minneapolis and Seattle have already gone in this direction, and the Sacramento’s city council recently voted unanimously on a draft plan to allow up to four dwelling units in SFR only areas.

The Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley estimates 600,000 new units could be created in California if only five percent of property owners opt to construct ADU’s, two units, or duplexes.

Housing Element Update Process

Here are the anticipated timelines published by the city:

Winter 2020 City Council Scoping Session
Planning Commission Study Session
Stakeholder outreach
Develop site inventory
Assess and develop draft HEU goals, policies, and objectives
Develop draft implementation program
Spring 2021 Community workshops
Stakeholder outreach
Finalize site inventory
Prepare draft HEU and environmental review for CEQA
Summer 2021 HCD pre-submittal review of draft HEU
Public review of draft HEU and CEQA documentation
Project briefings with Planning Commission and City Council
Finalize HEU and CEQA documentation
Fall 2022 Adoption hearings:
Planning Commission
City Council
State Due Date October 15, 2021 (for certification)

The next step in the Housing Element Update process is a public study session for the Planning Commission scheduled for February 18 at 5:30 on Zoom. To participate, click here for the Planning Commission meeting agenda and online meeting instructions.

Stay tuned for more updates from the Irvine Watchdog in the future.