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March 21, 2024
Media Contact: Sumeet Bal, Director of Communications, sbal@publicadvocates.org, 917.647.1952



Fifteen Months Past Due, Wealthiest Cities, Counties Fail to Adopt Legally Required Affordable Housing Action Plans

San Francisco—Today Public Advocates and Public Interest Law Project, non-profit civil rights law firms, sent inquiry letters to 39 jurisdictions that are over one year behind in adopting a legally compliant Housing Element—an essential affordable housing action plan. Over one-third of the Bay Area’s cities and counties—22 of which are more exclusionary in terms of race and income based on an analysis by the Association of Bay Area Governments—are hindering development of roughly 35,000 affordable homes by not acting with the urgency necessary to address our state’s housing crisis.* Local leadership must take immediate steps to adopt actionable housing plans or face legal consequences. Their non-compliance impacts everyone in California and continues to marginalize our neighbors making lower incomes (approximately $120,000 per year for a family of four in Alameda County).

“Everyone in California should have a place to call home—no exceptions. The housing element is instrumental to achieving this goal and supporting a California where everyone can thrive,” said Tahirah Dean, Staff Attorney at Public Advocates. “While we are hopeful we can partner with local leaders to move their action plans forward, if jurisdictions continue to drag their feet while our neighbors struggle, we will be forced to take legal action. It’s not just morally egregious to delay building more affordable housing while our neighbors grapple with basic housing needs, it’s also against the law.”

With housing and homelessness amongst voters’ top priorities, the Housing Element—which ensures that communities are addressing the housing needs of all people, especially our most vulnerable neighbors—is an essential part of that solution. While voters narrowly approved statewide Proposition 1, solving our housing and homelessness crisis will require local leaders to take deliberate steps to identify resources, ensure there is adequate zoning to build affordable housing, and protect renters from unjust evictions.

Under California law, every eight years, cities and counties are required to develop local affordable housing action plans called the Housing Element. The Housing Element must identify land where new affordable housing can be built and commit to a concrete “program of actions” to meet the housing needs of the community at all income levels. These actions—designed to make sure that low-income families can find an affordable place to call home in every community—can range from plans to sell city-owned land to affordable housers, to adopting tenant protections that keep people in their homes.

“Housing Element Law is designed to fairly distribute needed affordable housing in communities throughout California. When local governments refuse to comply with the law, it harms the region by restricting housing development, perpetuating the housing crisis,” said Craig Castellanet of the Public Interest Law Project. “The legislature has empowered community organizations and individuals to go to court to enforce the law, and they have done so in cases throughout the state.”

Housing Elements are more than an abstract plan. Programs that come out of them have meaningful impacts on countless individual families and the community as a whole. In Alameda County, one of the last jurisdictions to even submit a draft Housing Element, residents have been asking for programs that would create immediate relief for marginalized community members for years, while more than two-thirds of San Mateo County’s cities remain out of compliance with the law, despite that county being among the least affordable in the region.

“We are more than a year past the legal deadline for housing element adoption, and we are very concerned about the lack of progress by so many local governments—particularly some of the wealthiest in the region,” said Public Advocates’ Law Fellow Skylar Spear. “We are asking local leaders to give us an update on their progress so that we can help all Bay Area jurisdictions come into compliance with the law and take immediate actions to address the Bay Area’s urgent affordable housing crisis. We are hopeful that through partnership between neighbors, community leaders, and advocates, we can support local leadership to create their housing plans of action quickly, but should jurisdictions continue to delay on their commitment, we are prepared to take action.”

City of Belmont, City of Belvedere, City of Benicia, City of Brentwood, City of Clayton, City of Cupertino, City of Daly City, City of East Palo Alto, City of Foster City, City of Half Moon Bay, City of Hercules, City of Lafayette, City of Larkspur, City of Martinez, City of Monte Sereno, City of Novato, City of Pacifica, City of Palo Alto, City of Pittsburg, City of San Bruno, City of San Carlos, City of San Mateo, City of San Pablo, City of Santa Clara, City of Saratoga, City of Vallejo, County of Alameda, County of Napa, County of San Mateo, County of Santa Clara, County of Solano, Town of Atherton, Town of Danville, Town of Fairfax, Town of Los Gatos, Town of Ross, Town of San Anselmo, Town of Woodside, Town of Yountville

City of Belmont, City of Belvedere, City of Clayton, City of Cupertino, City of Daly City, City of Foster City, City of Half Moon Bay, City of Hercules, City of Lafayette, City of Larkspur, City of Monte Sereno, City of Palo Alto, City of San Carlos, City of Saratoga, County of Napa, Town of Atherton, Town of Danville, Town of Fairfax, Town of Los Gatos, Town of Ross, Town of San Anselmo, Town of Woodside


Public Advocates Inc. is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination by strengthening community voices in public policy and achieving tangible legal victories advancing education, housing, transportation equity, and climate justice.

The Public Interest Law Project advances justice for low income people and communities by building the capacity of legal services organizations through impact litigation, training, and publications, and by advocating for low income community groups and individuals.

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