Merced County Multi-Jurisdictional Housing Element
The Merced County region is developing a multi-jurisdictional housing element (MJHE) for the sixth cycle housing element update. Jurisdictions participating in the joint effort are the County of Merced, and the cities of Atwater, Dos Palos, Gustine, Livingston, Los Banos, and Merced. The Merced County Association of Governments is helping to coordinate the effort. As the process moves forward, this website will be the primary source for materials related to the Merced MJHE, including project documents, community workshop information, reports, and resources, and provide the community with ways to provide feedback on the project.
Merced County by the Numbers
- From 2000 to 2014, Merced County’s population grew by 8% to 264,922. During that time, the largest amount of growth occurred in the cities of Los Banos, Livingston, and Atwater.
- The Median Household Income in the County is $58,861. In 2021, approximately 21.9% of households earned an income below the poverty line.
- From 2000 to 2014, the number of housing units in Merced County grew by 23% from 68,373 units to 84,298 units.
- 855 people are experiencing homelessness.
About the Project
The MJHE is a policy document that provides a comprehensive strategy for promoting the production of available, affordable, and adequate housing within the community. It serves as a strategy to address housing needs across the economic and social spectrum. State law requires that cities and counties update their housing elements every eight years. The Housing Element will cover the period of January 31, 2024, to January 31, 2032. The Housing Element must be certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) by a pre-determined deadline, which for Merced County is February 18, 2024.
What is a Housing Element?
The Housing Element is a comprehensive assessment of current and future housing needs for all residents of the cities of Atwater, Dos Palos, Gustine, Livingston, Los Banos, Merced, and Merced County, as well as programs for meeting those needs. The primary focus of the Housing Element is to ensure decent, safe, sanitary, and affordable housing for current and future residents of unincorporated areas, including those with special needs.
Click to view the Housing Element Explainer, Department of Housing and Community Development
Why is this important?
Since 1969, California law has required that all cities and counties demonstrate how they will meet the housing needs of everyone in the community. The State forecasts the need for housing based on population projections, and then each region must show how it will accommodate that need.
Providing housing to meet the needs of all income levels is important to the social and economic health of a city. Having an approved housing element makes cities and counties eligible for a variety of State or other public financings, including funds for affordable housing, parks, and infrastructure. If a jurisdiction does not meet its deadline to adopt its updated housing element, it could face fines and lawsuits from the State. A court may limit local land use decision-making authority until the jurisdiction brings its housing element into compliance.
What will the Housing Element Update Include?
As cities grow and evolve, the population’s housing needs change. The Multi-Jurisdictional Housing Element Update will assess how the participating jurisdictions’ current demands are being met and plan for projected housing needs over the next eight years. Jurisdictions will continue to prioritize affordable housing available for all residents, tailored to the unique demographics of each community. The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation will inform planning and development to support the evolving housing needs of residents.
State law requires specific components to be included:
- Adequate Sites Inventory: an inventory of land suitable for residential development that could accommodate the County’s RHNA allocation
- Constraints and Barriers Analysis: an evaluation of governmental and nongovernmental barriers to housing production
- Goals, Policies, and Implementation Programs: Identification of specific policies and actions to implement the Housing Element
- Other analyses, policies, and goals to meet community housing needs, and/or comply with applicable State law
Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA)
RHNA is a process driven by the state that quantifies the housing need for each jurisdiction. The State determines each planning region’s housing needs based on demographic information and anticipated growth in the area. The Merced County Association of Governments (MCAG) then allocates the housing need amongst all the jurisdiction within its region. The RHNA allows communities to anticipate and plan for growth in a smart and sustainable way that enhances the quality of life and access to resources. In consultation with California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), MCAG developed the RHNA Methodology and Final RHNA Subregional Shares, which detail housing allocation, separated into four income categories: Very Low Income, Moderate Income, and Above Moderate Income.
Many new State housing laws relevant to this housing element update cycle have been enacted since the 5th cycle housing element update in 2015. The Multi-Jurisdictional Housing Element will incorporate and address pertinent housing law changes through analysis, new policies, or new programs. The relevant laws include:
- Affordable Housing Streamlined Approval Process: Senate Bill (SB) 35 (2017), Assembly Bill (AB) 168, and AB 831 – These bills support a streamlined, ministerial review process for qualifying multifamily, urban infill projects in jurisdictions that have not approved housing projects sufficient to meet their state‐mandated RHNA.
- Additional Housing Element Sites Analysis Requirements: AB 879 (2017) and AB 1397 (2017) – These bills require additional analysis and justification of the sites included in the site’s inventory of a housing element.
- Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing: AB 686 (2017) – AB 686 requires the City to administer its housing programs and activities in a manner to affirmatively further fair housing and not take any action that is inconsistent with this obligation.
- No-Net-Loss Zoning: SB 166 (2017) – SB 166 amended the No‐Net‐Loss rule to require that the land inventory and site identification programs in the housing element include sufficient sites to accommodate the unmet RHNA. The Project sites inventory far exceeds the City’s RHNA, allowing for additional sites to be used for additional housing units as needed.
- Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU): AB 2299 (2016), SB 1069 (2016), AB 494 (2017), SB 229 (2017), AB 68 (2019), AB 881 (2019), AB 587 (2019), SB 13 (2019), AB 670 (2019), AB 671 (2019), and AB 3182 (2020) – The 2016 and 2017 updates to state law included changes pertaining to the allowed size of ADUs, permitting ADUs by right in at least some areas of jurisdiction, and limits on parking requirements related to ADUs. More recent bills reduce the time to review and approve ADU applications to 60 days, remove lot size requirements and replace parking space requirements and require local jurisdictions to permit junior ADUs.
- Density Bonus: AB 1763 (2019) and AB 2345 (2020) – AB 1763 amended California’s density bonus law to authorize significant development incentives to encourage 100 percent affordable housing projects, allowing developments with 100 percent affordable housing units to receive an 80 percent density bonus from the otherwise maximum allowable density on the site. AB 2345 created additional density bonus incentives for affordable housing units provided in a housing development project. It also requires that the annual report include information regarding density bonuses that were granted.
- Housing Crisis Act of 2019: SB 330 – SB 330 enacts changes to local development policies, permitting, and processes that will be in effect through January 1, 2025.
- Inclusionary Housing: California Assembly Bill 1505, enacted in 2017, authorized cities and counties to adopt inclusionary housing ordinances, which can require new residential development to include a certain percentage of residential rental units affordable to various households by income. Inclusionary housing can be a mandatory requirement or voluntary goal to reserve a certain percentage of housing units for lower-income households in new residential developments. Considerations for inclusionary housing programs may include inclusionary percentage (i.e., percentage of development dedicated for affordability), income levels targeted, alternatives to construction on-site, developer incentives, and length of affordability.