Housing Element FAQ

    What is a Housing Element?

    A state-mandated policy document that identifies where and how cities will accommodate existing and projected future housing needs for people of all income groups. As one of seven elements of the Belvedere General Plan, it is required to be updated every eight years.

    According to State Law, a Housing Element must:

    • Provide goals, policies, quantified objectives, and scheduled programs to preserve, improve, and develop housing;

    • Identify and analyze existing and projected housing needs for all economic segments of the community;

    • Identify adequate sites zoned and available within the eight-year housing cycle to meet Belvedere’s fair share of regional housing needs at all income levels;

    • Be certified (approved) by the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) as complying with State Law; and

    • Be internally consistent with other parts of the General Plan.

    How can I get involved?

    The update process provides a variety of opportunities for community involvement, including:

    • Housing surveys;

    • Virtual community workshops;

    • Demographic and existing conditions review;

    • Potential site review; and

    • Public hearings.

    How many units do we need?

    Regional Housing Needs Allocation (6th Cycle 2023-2031)

    The Housing Element Update is how the City addresses its assigned fair share of regional housing. This fair share is determined through a Regional Needs Allocation (RHNA) process. The State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), with input from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), determines the total housing need for the 2023-2031 period. ABAG then determines the housing allocation for each Bay Area City and County. This update of the Housing Element must identify enough land zoned to accommodate the City's RHNA allocation of 160 units.

    Belvedere’s allocation of 160 units is broken down by income groups, as shown in the table as follows:

    Income Group

    # of Units

    Very Low (0-50% AMI)


    Low (51-80% AMI)


    Moderate (81-120% AMI)


    Above Moderate (over120% AMI)




    Note: AMI stands for Average Median Income level, which is based on specific data for the City of Belvedere. The City lists Federal and State income limits on its website.

    Why do we need a Housing Element?

    The need for every city and county in California to plan for their ‘fair share’ of the projected housing need is based in Housing Element Law, enacted in 1969 (Government Code Section 65583). The concept behind the law is that, in order for the private development market to adequately address housing demand, local governments must adopt housing plans that provide opportunities for – and not unduly constrain – housing development.

    Having a certified Housing Element ensures:

    • Eligibility for critical State and Federal funds;

    • Local land use control; and

    • Eligibility for State-administered funding for roads, sewer, parks, housing, and planning.

    Without a certified Housing Element, the City is:

    • At risk of losing local land use control, including the City’s ability to issue building permits and keep its zoning authority;

    • Responsible for accommodating an increased number of housing units;

    • Ineligible for various State-administered funds for roads, sewer, parking, housing, and planning; and

    • More open to legal action and challenges of its General Plan. 

      • This legal action could come from developers, housing advocates, and California’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

    What does this update cover?

    6th Cycle 2023-2031 Housing Element Update

    The City of Belvedere is in the process of updating the Housing Element of the General Plan for the planning period between 2023 through 2031. Under State Law, every city and county in California is required to update its Housing Element to address specific requirements and submit the Element to the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for certification.

    The Housing Element provides the plan to meet the housing needs of our residents at all economic levels, and address segments of the population with special housing needs. The Housing Element will include:

    • An assessment of the unique characteristics of the City’s population;

    • An inventory of sites suitable for residential development;

    • An assessment of financial and program resources; and

    • An analysis of constraints to housing production in Belvedere.

    This data and analysis will provide the basis for a comprehensive set of policies to address current and future housing needs.

    As part of the Housing Element Update, we are asking the community to provide input regarding housing priorities and challenges. Participation from our residents is vital to ensure our community’s values are identified and articulated in the Housing Element and the City’s approach provides the best fit for our community’s goals, values, and priorities.

    Is Belvedere required to build the housing assigned?

    Under current state law, cities are not required to build housing units. Housing construction is still driven by the private market. Instead, a city is required to ensure that sufficient land and appropriate zoning standards are available to accommodate all assigned units. To do so, cities must determine whether the current zoning standards can accommodate its RHNA assignment. If not, the city is required to designate new sites for this purpose – usually through amending the General Plan and Zoning designations.

    What is zoning?

    As mentioned on the Belvedere City website, zoning is a set of rules and “regulations regarding a number of aspects, including building heights, setbacks, landscaping, parking, and fences.”

    Different parts of the City have different zoning districts. Your zoning district determines what can be built on your property and which uses are allowed on your property.

    What is a general plan?

    As mentioned on the Belvedere City website, “all properties and land uses in the City are governed by the City's General Plan. The General Plan describes the long-term goals for the City’s future and guides daily decision-making. The Belvedere General Plan is a roadmap to the future that encompasses the hopes, aspirations, values and dreams of the community. The Plan contains the City’s official policies on land use and community design, transportation, housing, environmental resources and health and safety. In addition to the policies in the General Plan, different areas of the city have specific plan regulations that are applicable to them.”

    Read more here: https://www.cityofbelvedere.org/213/General-Plan-Housing

    What happens if a city does not adopt a Housing Element or if the Housing Element does not comply with state law?

    The penalties for non-compliance have increased in scope and severity over the past few legislative cycles, and they currently include:

    Limited access to state funding, including transportation funding for local roadway maintenance and capital improvement projects;

    Court imposed fines of up to $600,000 per month. The statute also allows the state to collect these fines by withholding state funding due to the city.

    Lawsuits: When a community's housing element is found to be out of compliance, its General Plan is at risk of being deemed inadequate and therefore invalid, opening the possibility for lawsuits. Consequences of lawsuits include:

    • Court mandated compliance

    • Court suspension of local control on building matters, freezing the community’s ability to issue building permits, zoning changes, etc.

    • Court approval of housing developments on behalf of the community 

    • Attorney fees associated with the lawsuit

    Over the past 20 years, cities and counties throughout the Bay Area (including Corte Madera, Pittsburg, Pleasanton, Alameda, Benicia, Fremont, Rohnert Park, Menlo Park, Napa County, and Santa Rosa) have faced legal challenges to the adequacy of their housing elements. In virtually every case, the city settled by amending their Housing Element and/or zoning ordinance to accommodate more housing and paid the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees. Each of these cases were filed prior to the most recent amendments to the state housing law which make it exceedingly more difficult for cities to win such cases.

    Why does my participation matter?

    The State of California has declared a 'housing supply crisis' and holds all local communities accountable for accommodating an assigned housing target, regardless of available land capacity. Your participation is essential to creating a plan that represents Belvedere’s core values while meeting regional and state-mandated housing goals. Local power resides in discovering how Belvedere will meet these state requirements.