State housing authorities this week finally approved the City of Morgan Hill’s Housing Element, an eight-year local plan for how the city will meet its projected need for new homes as the area grows.
The California Department of Housing and Community Development certified Morgan Hill’s 6th Cycle Housing Element on Nov. 29—almost a year after the city council approved the document that covers housing needs from 2023-2031, according to the city.
“HCD appreciates the dedication and hard work you and your staff, Adam Paszkowski and Edith Ramirez put into the housing element update and review process,” says a Nov. 29 letter from HCD Senior Program Manager Paul McDougall to Morgan Hill Development Services Director Jennifer Carman. “HCD also applauds the leadership and collaboration of the city taking meaningful steps towards compliance, including significant approval and progress toward the regional housing need allocation (RHNA), particularly for special needs populations.”
The state’s certification of the Housing Element, which is part of the city’s General Plan, marks a “significant milestone in the city’s ongoing efforts to meet the housing needs of our community while adhering to state guidelines and affirmatively furthering fair housing,” city staff said in a press release.
The housing needs addressed in the Housing Element are based on the RHNA numbers adopted by state officials. In Morgan Hill, the latest RHNA says the city will need 1,037 new homes from now through 2031. The housing element approved by the council in January shows 1,819 homes likely to be built in that time period.
Morgan Hill’s Housing Element outlines a comprehensive strategy for meeting the RHNA and ensuring an adequate supply of affordable housing exists within the city limits over the next eight years, according to city staff. The element also includes programs to support housing preservation, tenant protection, fair housing, homelessness prevention and more.
The Nov. 29 letter from HCD adds, “(The) city has proposed a robust suite of programs to promote housing mobility in racially concentrated areas of affluence (RCAA), protect tenants from displacement and establish high quality amenities in lower resourced areas. These actions include but are not limited to revising zoning, implementing incentives, outreach, education and dedicating funding and resources to specific areas of the city.”
While the Morgan Hill City Council initially approved the Housing Element in January, HCD staff tasked with reviewing the document sent it back for revisions. City officials have maintained that the Housing Element approved in January has been in compliance with state law all along.
Specifically, the HCD’s holdup with Morgan Hill’s housing element had to do with a newly required section of the housing element on “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing,” according to city staff. The city last sent a revised Housing Element responsive to HCD’s comments on Oct. 5, finally gaining HCD’s approval at the end of November.
“Morgan Hill remains committed to implementing our Housing Element in a manner that furthers our goals and obligations under state law, respects our city’s character, and reflects the aspirations of our residents,” Carman said. “We are dedicated to working closely with the community on the Housing Element program implementation while preserving the natural beauty and charm that make Morgan Hill a desirable place to live.”
City staff added that the certified Housing Element allows Morgan Hill officials to maintain local control over land use decisions, and exercise discretion when reviewing development projects.
Since February, several developers have submitted plans for projects under a provision of state law known as the “builder’s remedy,” which is triggered when a city or county lacks a certified Housing Element when required. The builder’s remedy allows developers to bypass local zoning laws and build certain types of housing projects, even if those plans do not comply with a city or county’s zoning ordinance or general plan.
Specifically, developers have submitted plans for four projects totaling 1,002 housing units in Morgan Hill under the builder’s remedy, which requires projects to be at least 20% affordable homes.
But now, city staff say with a certified Housing Element, those four projects are now subject to normal review and evaluation under the city’s local zoning and land use guidelines. City staff “believes the city council adopted a substantially compliant Housing Element on January 25,” says the press release.