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Does the Housing Accountability Act apply?

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Alright, you’re here to figure out if the Housing Accountability Act can be used to get more housing where you live. Here’s a quick guide to help you figure that out. You don’t have to nail all of this before reaching out to CaRLA about a possible case, but knowing what’s up can help you find these cases where you wouldn’t have otherwise.

First, some part of your local government (a planning commission, the city council, the zoning adjustment board, or something else) has to

  • Deny a new housing project
  • Approve a new housing project, but with fewer units than the original application
  • Approve a new housing project, but in a way that renders it financially infeasible to be built
  • Stall out the approval of the relevant permits for a new project with housing for longer than 180 days

If any of those things are true, cool, let’s move on.

Second, the project with new housing has to already fit into what’s called the “general plan and zoning standards” for the city. That’s a weird phrase, but it means that the city has to have pre-written, objective standards for what housing, what kind of housing, and where housing is allowed. “Objective” is the key word here.

So, for instance, if your city planners say the project has to have fewer housing units because of “shadows on neighbors’ lawns” but doesn’t have any rules for blocking housing because of shadows falling on private property, the HAA applies and CaRLA with you or another resident, could file a lawsuit. Similarly, if the units are removed for reasons like “neighborhood character” or “pleasantness”, you could submit to CaRLA as well. An example of an objective standard would be a 15 foot setback. That is something you can say yes or no to: the setback is either 15 feet or it isn’t. There isn’t a middle ground, and it isn’t subject to the personal opinions of the people voting on it.

Any reason that sounds subjective and hasn’t been written into their zoning laws and plans ahead of time means that CaRLA could probably get involved.

You’re probably done. If the housing project hits all these, you can go ahead and submit the project to CaRLA for us to look at.

There is one final set of criteria that is pretty rare for a housing project to not match, but we include for completeness. Opponents are going to use phrases that sound like these criteria, but aren’t actually these criteria, in order to scare folks away from making noise. Keep your head on a swivel.

The new housing project has to not cause “significant, adverse impact” to public health, or take water from bordering farms or preserved resources. FYI, you might hear some folks talk up congestion on the streets as a “significant, adverse impact” from that new housing project but that’s not held up in the law. Density is one of the things that health and environmental experts agree is both a health and environmental boon because it means folks can more readily use public transit, bikes, or simple walking to get where they need to go.

The new project with housing also has to meet the standards of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the California Coastal Act. You might have heard about CEQA lawsuits being a thing used to delay projects. While they are fairly common to receive from citizens, local governments vary rarely use CEQA to delay projects because developers tend to handle that up front.

And that’s it. If you’ve got something that you think matches these criteria, submit away!