Public Comment

Commentary: Clarifying ABAG’s Role in the Housing Needs Process

By Kathleen Cha
Friday January 05, 2007

The articles and letters printed recently on housing in the Berkeley Daily Planet reflect misunderstanding and confusion about the need to plan for housing locally and region-wide, the state-driven Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process, and the state mandated role of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) in this planning process. 

Housing is being planned for, because even with slower growth in cities like Berkeley, the region continues to experience a severe housing shortage. Bay Area forecasts indicate that by 2015, the Bay Area will grow an economy that will need to support almost 634,000 new residents—4,200 of them are expected to live in Berkeley. Planning for housing needed now and in the future is a necessary, ongoing step to address the affordable housing challenge.  

ABAG, as the regional planning agency and council of governments representing the Bay Area, works with cities and counties to develop a process to distribute regional housing need, so that local governments can identify appropriate housing sites and policies to meet their state-mandated housing goals. ABAG itself does not impose mandates, quotas, or penalties on cities and counties for failing to reach housing goals.  

The statewide housing needs process that is part of the confusion is facilitated as follows: Housing Element Law (Gov. Code Secs. 65580 et seq) requires ABAG and other councils of governments to create a methodology for allocating the region’s housing need. In the Bay Area, the regional housing need is determined by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and ABAG through consultation. Regional need reflects the number of housing units needed for a range of income levels--from very low to above moderate income. Housing Element Law then requires that each city and county revise the housing element in its general plan to accommodate the housing allocation they receive, and to submit the revised housing elements to HCD for certification. This Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process is done every seven years.  

In preparation for the (2007-2014) RHNA cycle, ABAG established a Housing Methodology Committee in May 2006, composed of elected and appointed officials and stakeholder groups from throughout the region, including San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. The participation and insight of the city and county representatives have been critical in determining the resulting 2007-2014 Draft Regional Housing Needs Allocation Methodology (Draft RHNA Methodology). The draft was released for public review and comment on Nov. 17, with its 60-day comment period ending on Jan. 18, 2007. This draft RHNA Methodology was designed to distribute housing need throughout Bay Area cities and counties and proposes to locate housing predominantly in urban areas and along transit corridors. It is important to remember that housing numbers have not yet been assigned for the next (2007-2014) RHNA cycle, but in the draft RHNA Methodology numbers from the past RHNA cycle were used as examples to calculate how the draft methodology would work.  

While many are reviewing and commenting on this approach, the consensus is that the draft RHNA Methodology responds to the region-wide call for less suburban sprawl, reduced freeway congestion, and other environmental considerations, such as cleaner air. Helping sustain the Bay Area for current and future residents is the basic aim and encouraging transit oriented development is just one way to maximize land use.  

Many kinds of development and housing are needed to balance the jobs and housing in each community. Bottom line, Berkeley and all our Bay Area cities and counties make their own local land use decisions. These include identifying appropriate housing sites and policies necessary to build the housing needed by families and single residents. ABAG’s ongoing role and continuing interest is to help cities and counties address growth challenges collaboratively, strategically, and in the most desirable way for the Bay Area’s cities and counties.  

The draft RHNA Methodology can be downloaded from the Regional Housing Needs section of the ABAG website at, or requested by phone at (510) 464-7950.  



Kathleen Cha is senior communications officer for the Association of Bay Area Governments.