What is a Housing Element?

    For a quick introduction to Housing Elements, watch this 5-minute video

    A Housing Element is a mandatory element of the City’s General Plan. The Housing Element establishes the City’s Housing Plan through the identification of housing goals, policies, and programs. The housing programs will be implemented during the 2023-2031 planning period to help ensure the City: provides and maintains adequate sites with appropriate zoning to accommodate the regional housing needs allocation (RHNA); encourages and supports the preservation, rehabilitation, and development of housing; further opportunities for affordable and special needs housing; and reduces constraints to housing. 

    The Housing Element provides an analysis of Sausalito’s housing needs for all income levels, and includes strategies to address those housing needs. The Housing Element demonstrates how the City will accommodate its fair share of housing, as determined by the State of California, for all income levels over the planning period. Specifically, the Housing Element assesses all approved and planned development projects in the City. It also assesses vacant and nonvacant sites that have the potential to develop into residential uses over the planning period. The Housing Element also addresses conditions that might constrain housing development, like Sausalito’s requirements for new and rehabilitated housing, availability of water and sewer service, and non-governmental conditions, including cost of housing, financing, and environmental conditions. The Housing Element considers actions the City can take to affirmatively further fair housing opportunities and conditions, and provides an analysis of the effectiveness of the 2015 Housing Element. 

    State requirements for Housing Elements are found in the California Government Code Sections 65580-65589. Unlike the other mandatory general plan elements, the Housing Element is required to be updated every eight years. It is also subject to detailed statutory requirements and mandatory review and approval by the State’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

    The Housing Element must be certified (approved) by HCD no later than January 31, 2023 as complying with State law and be internally consistent with the other elements of the General Plan.

    What is the schedule for the Housing Element Update? Does it include opportunities for community input?

    The schedule for the Housing Element anticipates adoption in early 2023:

    - January 25, 2023 - Planning Commission meeting to discuss HCD Draft Housing Element and potential revisions (meeting materials will be posted here once available)

    - January 30, 2023 - Joint Planning Commission and City Council Meeting to Consider Adoption of the Housing Element (meeting materials will be posted here once available)

    The Housing Element Update includes multiple opportunities for community input:

    Housing Element Advisory Committee (HEAC) Meetings: The HEAC has reviewed the approach to the Housing Element Update, including identification of Draft Opportunity Sites to accommodate the RHNA. The HEAC will meet to review a preliminary draft of the Housing Element before it is circulated for public comment. The public is invited to attend HEAC meetings and comment on items raised for HEAC discussion.

    Town Halls: Community workshops (Town Halls) will be held throughout the Housing Element Update process. Completed and Town Halls are listed as follows. Recordings for the Town Halls are hyperlinked below.

    Community Surveys: Sausalito residents, employees, and interested persons were invited to participate in two surveys, one to identify the housing needs and priorities of the community and one to identify property owner and other interest in developing new residential units in Sausalito. The results of the community surveys are in the HEAC Virtual Binder.

    Community Service Providers, Community-based Organizations, and Development Professionals: These groups were invited to participate in focus group sessions to identify housing needs and priorities, including those of special needs and underserved populations, identify constraints to fair housing, and identify opportunities and costs for residential development.  The results of the survey are in the HEAC Virtual Binder HEAC Virtual Binder

    Planning Commission and City Council Study Sessions and Public Hearings: Throughout the Housing Element Update process, the project team will check in with the City Council to receive input on issues that have been raised for discussion or to provide an update regarding the process. There will also be a series of formal hearings to consider Housing Element adoption before the Planning Commission and City Council, in early 2023.

    What is the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA)?

    In 1969, the State mandated that all California cities, towns, and counties must plan for the housing needs of our residents regardless of income. The State implements this through Housing Elements and the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA. The RHNA process is used to determine how many new homes, and the affordability of those homes, each local government must plan for in its Housing Element. The current process represents the sixth Housing Element cycle for the period from 2023 to 2031.

    Working with the State Department of Finance, HCD assigns future housing and population growth projections in eight-year cycles to every Council of Government (COG) in the State, which, for Bay Area counties, is the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). ABAG then distributes a share of the region's housing need to each city, town and county in the region. Each local government must address the RHNA through developing an inventory of residential sites in the Housing Element where housing can be built at the allocated income levels. Each local government must also identify the policies and strategies necessary to meet the community's housing needs at all income levels, including any shortfall in sites. The RHNA distributes units across four income categories – very low income, low income, moderate income, and above moderate income.

    For the current Housing Element, Sausalito received a RHNA of 724 units – an increase of over 800% from the previous RHNA - and appealed the RHNA due to limited sites suitable for new housing. ABAG denied the appeal in October 2021. 

    Income Level

    5th Cycle 

    6th Cycle 

    Very Low-Income 

    (0-50% of area median income (AMI))




    (50-80% AMI)




    (80-120% AMI)



    Above Moderate-Income (>120% AMI)






    What is Included in the update process?

    The update process is community-based and includes a variety of opportunities for the community to be involved. Key features include:

    • Community workshops and public meetings;
    • Community surveys;
    • Housing Element Advisory Committee meetings;
    • Comprehensive review of demographics in the community to reflect existing conditions;
    • Assessment of adequacy of residential zoned land to address the 2023-2031 RHNA allocation; and
    • Public Hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council.

    Why is the Housing Element being updated now?

    All cities in California are required to adopt a Housing Element as part of the General Plan to adequately plan for the existing and projected housing needs of all economic segments of the community. The Housing Element must be certified by the State and updated every eight years, per the requirement of State law.

    What are the types of housing units?

    A variety of housing unit types are anticipated to accommodate housing needs in Sausalito: 

    • Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU): a unit that is attached, detached, or located within the living area of the existing dwelling or residential dwelling unit which provides complete independent living facilities for one or more persons. ADUs must include permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation on the same parcel on which the single-family dwelling is situated pursuant to Government Code section 65852.2.
    • Attached Single Family Home: a one-unit structure attached to another unit by a common wall, commonly referred to as a townhouse, row house, or condominium. The shared wall or walls extend from the foundation to the roof with adjoining units to form a property line. Each unit has individual heating and plumbing systems.
    • Duplex: a structure containing two units and not classified as a single-unit attached structure.
    • Houseboat: a watercraft, industrial, or commercial structure on or in the waters, floating or nonfloating, which is designed or fitted out as a place of habitation and is not principally used for transportation.
    • Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit (JADU) – a unit that is no more than 500 square feet in size and is contained entirely within a single-family unit.
    • Liveaboard:  a navigable vessel, with residential occupant(s) living aboard the vessel for harbor or marina security purposes.
    • Mobile home: a manufactured housing structure transportable in one or more sections, designed and equipped to be used with or without a foundation system.
    • Multifamily Home: a housing unit within a structure containing three or more housing units.
    • Single Family Detached Unit: a one-unit structure with open space on all four sides. The unit often possesses an attached garage.

    What are the income groups and their affordable housing costs?

    What are the benefits of a certified Housing Element?

    Maintaining a State-compliant Housing Element ensures that Sausalito is eligible for critical state and federal funds that require a certified Housing Element. Jurisdictions that do not maintain a compliant Housing Element are at risk of significant repercussions, including:

    • Potential loss of local land use control;
    • Carryover of unaddressed allocations, increasing the total number of housing units that the City is responsible for accommodating;
    • Ineligibility for various State-administered funds, including infrastructure, parks, housing, and planning funds: and
    • The City’s entire General Plan becomes vulnerable to challenge.

    What happens if a jurisdiction does not adopt a Housing Element or if an adopted Housing Element does not comply with state law?

    If the California Department of Housing and Community Development determines that a Housing Element fails to substantially comply with the State’s Housing Element Law, there are potentially serious consequences that extend beyond the realm of residential land use planning. When a jurisdiction’s Housing Element is found to be out of compliance, its General Plan is at risk of being deemed inadequate, and therefore invalid. If a jurisdiction is sued over an inadequate General Plan, the court may impose requirements for land use decisions until the jurisdiction brings its General Plan, including its Housing Element, into compliance with State law.

    A Housing Element is considered out of compliance with State law if one of the following applies:

    • It has not been revised and updated by the statutory deadline, or
    • Its contents do not substantially comply with the statutory requirements. If a Housing Element is certified, there is a presumption that it is adequate, and a plaintiff must present an argument showing that it is in fact inadequate.

    State law provides for eligible development projects that include at least 20% affordable housing that are not in conformance with the City's General Plan or Zoning Code to be submitted under the Housing Accountability Act and the City must make specific findings that one of five circumstances, ranging from violations of public health and safety standards as well as state and federal law to lack of sufficient water and sewer capacity to inconsistency with the General Plan or zoning, applies. If the City does not have an adopted Housing Element in substantial compliance with State law, it cannot make the finding regarding General Plan or zoning consistency.

    Certain State-administered funding programs require an adopted Housing Element that substantially complies with State law. 

    Over the years, California has steadily increased the penalties for not having a legally compliant Housing Element, and this trend is expected to continue.