Guiding Laws and Plans

At the city level, Richmond is guided by a number of plans that are mandated by state and city laws, including the Housing Element of the General Plan, the Zoning Update Ordinance, the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, and Health in All Policies. The details of these plans are further concretized through local level policy and action. In the past five years, Richmond voters and City Council members passed a series of housing laws and initiatives that support a more equitable housing landscape. These efforts are frequently initiated by community organizations and have passed both by council approval, and at the ballot. While passage of such plans and policies is a critical step, the manner in which they are implemented is shaped by the priorities, resources, and capacity of city government, city residents, organizations, developers, and other actors. These actions ultimately dictate the scope and impact of existing policy on the community. 

This section serves as a reference for community advocacy in identifying and prioritizing the elements of these documents that promote a comprehensive housing effort that advances belonging.

Guiding Laws and Plans

The Housing Element of Richmond's General Plan

The Housing Element lays out how the city will plan to meet the housing needs of all economic levels of Richmond’s population based on projected growth and development (see following section on how this projection is calculated). The current Housing Element was adopted in 2015 and includes an analysis of Richmond’s housing characteristics, including identifying priority development areas and vacant land maps. The Housing Element also states the city’s goals, policies, and programs through 2023 as related to housing. Community engagement in the development of the Housing Element and community efforts to ensure that policies and programs are implemented can help shape the outcomes of this plan. The four housing goals identified in the Housing Element are:

  • A balanced supply of housing

  • Better neighborhoods and quality of life

  • Expanded housing opportunity for special needs groups

  • Equal housing access for all

While broad in scope, the goals are attached to specific programs that identify concrete actions and timelines on some items. This includes actions such as the amendment of Richmond’s Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance, an Inclusionary Housing Ordinance study to establish impact fees for new developments, which has been completed but the results have not been made public as of the publishing of this report; and a Housing Access and Discrimination study, which has not been initiated yet.

More information

The Zoning Ordinance  
Passed November 2016 by Richmond City Council

The Zoning Ordinance brings Richmond’s zoning codes into alignment with the City of Richmond General Plan and is required by state law. The ordinance covers all of the rules that govern where in the city different types of developments can be built. The ordinance regulates everything from the proximity of types of development (e.g. heavy industrial in relation to residential) to the scale and density of developments, parking requirements to parks, and transit routes. Discussed in other areas of this report, the ordinance also covers accessory dwelling units, the affordable housing density bonus, inclusionary housing, and in-lieu fees.

More information

The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA)

RHNA guides the creation of the Housing Element by identifying the total number of units, at different income levels, that a city must plan for in a seven year cycle. Richmond’s housing allocation is identified out of a total regional need. The regional need, in this case the nine-county Bay Area, is identified by the state, while the local allocation is identified by the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in accordance with the state’s Sustainable Communities Strategy. While setting local goals, at a regional level the RHNA also clarifies who is building enough and who isn’t, and at which income levels of affordability. In Contra Costa, Richmond has been one of the leaders of the development of low-income housing, but has lagged on middle-income and market-rate production—a result of a complex set of factors that include land value, construction costs, availability of affordable housing tax credits,72 rental prices, and perceptions of Richmond. In addition, research shows that in the current RHNA cycle, cities with higher percentages of white people are allocated fewer low- and moderate-income properties than their more diverse counterparts, raising legal questions about the racially disparate impact of the RHNA process.

As of January 1, 2018, new state legislation went into effect that streamlines some multi-family housing developments if jurisdictions have not permitted the target number of very low-, low-, or above moderate-income housing units.73,74 Richmond is a jurisdiction that has not reached any of its allocations for these three income categories during the most recent reporting period; for example, during the 2007-2014 housing needs cycle, Richmond permitted 19 percent of its very low-income allocation, 45 percent of its low-income allocation, and 57 percent of its above moderate-income allocation. As a result, any proposed multi-family developments with more than 10 units will be subjected to “streamlining” if they conform to the zoning regulations for the project area, meaning that the project cannot be subjected to additional reviews by the planning department or city council and it will automatically be permitted. These developments, however, will be required to have a minimum of 10 percent of their units dedicated to families earning below 80 percent of area median income.

More information

  • Planning Department, City of Richmond, 510-620-6706

  • Unfair Shares: Racial Disparities and the Regional Housing Needs Allocation Process in the Bay Area. Heather Bromfield and Eli Moore. August 2017. http://haasinstitute.berkeley.edu/unfairshares

Health in All Policies

(HiAP) is a Richmond City ordinance that identifies health equity as a city priority. An outgrowth of community advocacy to include a Community Health and Wellness chapter in Richmond’s General Plan in 2006, the HiAP ordinance and strategy was drafted out of 14 community workshops with residents and the city.75 The policy builds on public health research that when it comes to health outcomes, “your zip code matters more than your genetic code,” and that cumulative toxic neighborhood stressors damage the immune system in multiple ways.76 The ordinance and strategy document includes a wide array of place-based guiding actions, including ones tied to expanding housing stability and quality. The implementation strategy is organized around six areas that reflect opportunities for addressing toxic stress and increasing health equity. One of these six areas addresses the “Residential and Built Environment” and includes a set of housing actions. Some of these that have been met include the establishment of a vacant property registry, proactive code enforcement to address abandoned and vacant properties, and an amended Housing Density Bonus for developers including housing for senior citizens or affordable to moderate-, lower-, very low-, or extremely low-income persons.77 Long-term actions which have not yet been addressed include Action 4H: Develop homelessness prevention program and enhance temporary and emergency shelter for families.

More information:

  • 72. The state agency tasked with allocating Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) awards within California apportions funding regionally. This means that proposed housing projects in Richmond “compete” for LIHTC funding with proposed projects in the rest of Contra Costa County, plus Alameda, Marin, Napa, and Sonoma counties, for 10.8 percent of the total funds that are available to the state. Additionally, this agency has historically prioritized jurisdictions where local funding was available to complement state funding. Jurisdictions that were unable to generate local funds to contribute towards LIHTC-funded housing projects were therefore not as competitive and were less likely to receive awards. It is likely that this second policy will change starting in 2018, pending regulatory changes that will be enacted in December 2017.
  • 73. This new policy is going into effect as a result of Senate Bill 35, which was signed by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2017. For the full text of the bill, see https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=20....
  • 74. “Low income” refers to households earning under 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), which is $80,400 for a family of four in 2017. “Above moderate income” refers to households earning above 120 percent of the area median income, which is $116,900 for a family of four in 2017. Source: http://www.hcd.ca.gov/grants-funding/income-limits/state-and-federal-inc....
  • 75. Jason Corburn, Shasa Curl, and Gabino Arredondo, “A Health-In-All-Policies Approach Addresses Many of Richmond, California’s Place-Based Hazards, Stressors,” Health Affairs 33, no. 11 (2014): 1905–13. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2014.0652.
  • 76. Jason Corburn, Shasa Curl, Gabino Arredondo, and Jonathan Malagon, “Health in All Urban Policy: city services through the prism of health,” Journal of Urban Health 91, no. 4 (2014): 623-36. doi: 10.1007/s11524-014-9886-3.
  • 77. “Affordable Housing Density Bonus,” City of Richmond Affordable Housing Density Bonus, http://nebula.wsimg.com/d44ba65c681b833c3cc8278ccdd8559b?AccessKeyId=8B4....