Housing Element Update

What is a Housing Element?

The Housing Element is one required topical chapter within the General Plan and is Irvine’s “housing plan. Irvine, along with all California cities and counties, is required to adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community, and to update its Housing Element every eight years for State certification. For reference, the current 5th cycle Housing Element is available here. 

What does the State require?

The upcoming October 2021 through October 2029 Housing Element is the sixth update to the Housing Element, and is also referred to as the 6th Cycle Housing Element. In the Housing Element, the City must identify enough potentially developable land that is suitable for residential use (i.e., site inventory) to meet Irvine’s new Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation.

The site inventory is an analysis of adequate sites suitable to accommodate the City’s RHNA obligations. It must show exact locations where future housing can be built and identify the potential numbers of homes that can be built at those locations as well as meet the state’s site selection criteria.

To further the development, improvement, and preservation of housing, Irvine’s housing plan must provide coordinated goals, policies, quantified objectives, and implementation programs demonstrating how the existing and future housing needs for all income levels within Irvine will be met. The plan focuses on accommodating future housing growth need, identifies opportunities for new housing units, preserving existing housing stock, and assisting the existing population. The Housing Element must also address recent housing legislation adopted in response to the state's housing crisis. 

The City does not build the housing, but it does create a plan and regulatory systems that provide opportunities for housing to be built by the private sector, where market conditions ultimately determine when and where housing is built.  

For additional information and resources about the Housing Element, visit California Department of Housing and Community Development’s (HCD) website at www.hcd.ca.gov. 

RHNA: Who decides how much housing is needed and what kind?

The driving force for the Housing Element Update (HEU) is the RHNA allocation, in which the State estimates each region’s housing need for all income groups for the upcoming eight years. HCD has determined the housing need for the region to be 1,341,827 units. In turn, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) has taken this number and, using their developed methodology, allocated each city and county in the region with its share. Irvine is represented by SCAG, which is the Metropolitan Planning Organization serving Imperial County, Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, and Ventura County.

In September 2020, SCAG officially released the draft RHNA allocation to each jurisdiction. The RHNA represents the minimum number of housing units Irvine is required to plan for in its housing element by providing “adequate sites” through general plan and zoning. The City of Irvine’s portion of the SCAG’s RHNA for the 2021-2029 Housing Element is 23,554 units total. This draft allocation is further broken down by income group as follows: 

Income Category 

(% of County Area Median Income) 


Very Low/Extremely Low  
(31% - 50%/0%-30%) 

Low (51% - 80%)                4,225
Moderate (81% - 120%)  4,299

Above Moderate
(120% or more a.k.a. “market rate”) 

TOTAL  23,554
* The Area Median Income (AMI) is the midpoint of a region’s income distribution – half of families in a region earn more than the median and half earn less than the median. For housing policy, income thresholds set relative to the area median income—such as 50% of the area median income—identify households eligible to live in income-restricted housing units and the affordability of housing units to low-income households. 

challenge for Irvine will be meeting the extremely low to low income unit allocations. It is anticipated that more units than the RHNA allocation will need to be planned for in order to realistically accommodate the required affordable units. 

On October 262020, the City filed an appeal of its RHNA allocation to reduce our allocation of 23,554 housing units by 8,259 total units. The appeal is posted on SCAG’s housing webpage and at the City’s dedicated RHNA webpage hereThe City Council has determined that this number was calculated in a manner that did not follow state housing laws and is requesting an adjustment of the City’s housing responsibility. Following the completion of the RHNA appeal processSCAG plans to adopt the final allocation in February 2021

SCAG’s draft RHNA allocation for Irvine is flawed because it is based on: 

  • Inaccurate transit assumptions based on conceptual stops and associated High Quality Transit Area not prorated to accurately reflect the population within the half mile radius of a HQTA stop; 

  • Unfair redistribution of units from other jurisdictions in Orange County; 

  • Incorrect assumptions regarding non-buildable areas that exist in the City, such as wildfire-prone areasprotected open space, and land covered by development agreements;  

  • The total regional determination for the SCAG region of 1.34 million units that violates state law; 

  • The RHNA is inconsistent with SCAG’s Sustainable Communities Strategy and further disregards local input provided by Irvine, a violation of state law; and 

  • significant change in circumstances through job loss and job accessibility due to COVID-19. 

Additional RHNA resources: 

For additional information and resources about RHNA, including methodology and its development timeline, visit SCAG’s website at www.scag.ca.gov. 

For an introduction to RHNA, please view the short video here. 

For an overview of the RHNA process, please view the SCAG RHNA 101 webinar here. 

Process and Deadline: Let's learn and work together 

Decisions made through the Housing Element Update will shape our community for years to come and greatly influence the rest of the General Plan Update. 

Staff is in the process of hiring a HEU consultant through the City’s competitive bid process. We will update this webpage with the anticipated project time line and future stakeholder and community outreach opportunities once finalized. 

Subscribe to Irvine - Housing Element and General Plan Update Announcements 

To comply with State housing element law, the Irvine City Council must adopt the 6th Cycle HEU (with appropriate CEQA documentation) and then submit the adopted HEU to the HCD for certification of compliance with State law by October 2021. A compliant Housing Element is one that is updated by the statutory deadline and its contents substantially comply with requirements. 

Housing Element Benefits: Why this matters

  • Planning for future housing given the number of units the City will likely have to absorb protects our quality of life to the greatest extent possible by mitigating or avoiding the negative consequences of unplanned growth; 

  • Providing housing to meet the needs of all income levels is critical to the long-term social, environmental, and economic health of Irvine; 

  • It can be challenging for cities like Irvine to attract and retain young adults and middle-income professionals such as teachers and police officers due to housing affordability;  

  • Like cities throughout California and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Irvine has seen an increase in homelessness and the cost associated with managing the effects on the community; 

  • Providing housing opportunities for an aging population and/or multi-generational living as our population changes; 

  • Providing housing for persons with disabilities; 

  • Eligibility to receive critical state and federal funding for infrastructure improvements and public amenities;
  • It’s the State law. Without a certified housing plan, Irvine may face substantial fines and penalties and be subject to a 4-year RHNA and HEU cycle (instead of the customary 8-year cycle) 

  • May result in the State disallowing the issuance of building permits and potential loss of local land use control; and  

  • May be open to litigation based on a legally inadequate General Plan. 

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