Calif. Sues Its Own City Over Lack of Affordable Housing

January 29, 2019

In a legal showdown, the state of California is suing one of its own cities because it says the city has failed to build enough affordable housing for its residents. In turn, the city of Huntington Beach is suing the state, claiming the state’s housing law is “unconstitutional.”

Gavel on wood surface

© Laura Krizel/EyeEm/Getty Images

Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom says the state sued Huntington Beach because it has harmed “California families’ ability to find affordable places to live and has driven up housing costs for everyone.” Newsom says the state has tried to work with Huntington Beach to help it comply with state housing laws, but the city has “willfully refused” to build enough affordable housing. By taking the city to court, the state is hoping to get Huntington Beach to add more housing units that are accessible to residents of all income levels, Newsom says.

The state's move marks the first time the state has taken such legal action against one of its cities.

Cities and counties in California are required to draft and adopt housing plans to meet the needs of the region where they are located and the area's economy. Each city’s housing plan is required to have a “fair share of the regional housing needs and provide zoning that encourages development of housing that is affordable” to residents across all income levels.

Huntington Beach claims the state’s constitution grants charter cities like it exclusive authority over local land use and zoning. “It’s one thing to have more basic housing laws come out of Sacramento; it’s another to have Sacramento try to micromanage cities’ zoning and attempt to approve development projects in spite of the city,” Michael Gates, city attorney for Huntington Beach, told SFgate.com. “It’s really nothing more than the city trying to maintain its local control.”

According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which monitors cities’ compliance, Huntington Beach has amended its housing plan to “significantly” reduce the number of affordable housing units that it would permit to be constructed in the city. The state has intervened to try to get the city to comply, but the city council recently voted down a proposal to build more affordable housing in the city.

“The state doesn’t take this action lightly,” Newsom says. “The huge housing costs and sky-high rents are eroding quality of life for families across the state. California’s housing crisis is an existential threat to our state’s future and demands an urgent and comprehensive response.”