Planning Commissioners learn about pressures on local housing needs planning

Santa Clarita City Hall, as pictured on February, 26, 2020, is located on the 23900 block of Valencia Blvd. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Santa Clarita Planning Commission received an update Tuesday about the city’s housing element, which helps the city plan to meet its housing needs for the next eight years. 

In Santa Clarita and many Southern California municipalities, housing need is measured by the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), which allocated a little over 10,000 residential units to Santa Clarita for the upcoming eight-year cycle, approximately half of which must be affordable to lower-income households, according to James Chow, a senior planner with the city. 

“RHNA is a requirement that cities must plan for and zone for their housing need allocation. It is not an obligation to build it,” Chow told commissioners. “The Legislature’s intent is that cities always have enough land zoned at high enough densities, so that it is feasible for a developer to come in and build the housing.” 

Jane Riley, a principal planner with 4LEAF, a consultant supporting the city with updating the city’s housing element, said that several new state requirements will make this housing element cycle “the most complicated of all of them.” 

Riley recommended that the city plan for 130% of its housing allocation because of new law that requires the city to identify within six months new sites for affordable housing if land designated for that purpose is used differently. 

“Cities need to zone at high enough densities for low-income housing in their highest-resource areas, those are the areas with the best schools and parks and good health outcomes,” Riley said of another new law broadening the state’s authority. “Cities will need to avoid putting more affordable housing and low-resource areas in places where there’s already a lot of affordable housing.”  

Riley said the city has to address an aging population and the unique needs of seniors and disabled residents, as well as the city’s residents ages 18 and younger, who make up 26% of the city’s population. 

“(Santa Clarita has) a young adult population that you will continue to lose if you don’t address the lack of housing for families that are just starting out,” said Riley, noting a lower percentage of 20- to 35-year-olds in Santa Clarita. 

Chow said the city has met its RHNA allocations from prior cycles to date. 

“We do see a lot of new housing that is entitled by the Planning Commission and the City Council and we do see a lot of new housing that is built here in Santa Clarita compared to some other communities, yet despite that the state rules keep closing in on what is allowed to be considered part of the RHNA sites,” he told commissioners. 

To participate in the survey about the housing element update, visit 

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