Low-income housing development in a hot market: Do developers use local housing plans in California?


  • Paavo Monkkonen UCLA / Sciences Po


Housing developers, Affordable housing, Housing plans, California




State law requires local governments in California to make plans that can accommodate new low-income housing development every eight years, by developing lists of specific sites that are apt for new housing projects. These sites are not reserved for low-income housing, and affordable housing developers must acquire them on the market. Existing research suggests that these sites mostly go undeveloped (Kapur et al., 2021). Since 2021, however, the state of California has more aggressively implemented this planning mandate for housing than ever before, by assigning local governments larger targets for new housing, creating new rules for site selection, and scrutinizing plans more closely (Monkkonen et al., 2023). This paper seeks to assess the impacts of these reforms on affordable housing development. We ask how low-income housing developers select sites, whether they pay attention to housing plans, and why or why not. Using in-depth interviews of 20 large affordable housing developers in Los Angeles County, we describe both their approach to selecting and acquiring sites for new housing projects as well their understanding and utilization of new housing plans. Better understanding the relationship of this fundamental actor in housing production to a highly visible and politically contentious planning process will inform both our knowledge about how affordable housing development occurs in the United States, as well as how planners can better work within housing markets to improve the production of housing for low-income households.


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