Realtor-backed nonprofit sues Claremont for failing to file plans for 1,707 new homes – San Gabriel Valley Tribune
A lawsuit against Claremont claims the city has failed to comply with state laws requiring it to plan for the development of housing through the rest of the decade.
Californians for Homeownership, a nonprofit group affiliated with the California Association of Realtors, filed the lawsuit in L.A. County Superior Court following the establishment of new rules that increase consequences for local governments that don’t comply with state laws requiring them to plan for future housing.
Filed Friday, Sept. 16, the lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Claremont to adopt a compliant housing element.
The city missed an Oct. 15, 2021 deadline to submit its updated plan for housing.
In a statement Monday, the city said it is “committed to complying with the state’s housing element law” and “is working diligently” to draft its housing element update.
After the city failed to submit its plan to the state’s Housing and Community Development Department — which is responsible for reviewing and certifying housing element updates — Californians for Homeownership contacted Brad Johnson, Claremont’s development director, and agreed it would delay litigation in exchange for the city’s acknowledgment of non-compliance. A similar notice threatening litigation and a compromise was sent to the Claremont City Council, first on March 28 and again on July 22.
The nonprofit received no response, according to the court filing.
“We reached out to the city a number of times and heard nothing back,” said Matthew Gelfand, an attorney for the housing group.
The Regional Housing Needs Assessment, mandated by the state, is a process that determines projected and existing housing needs across California. Every eight years, each city must ensure there is sufficient room to accommodate these homes. While nobody can be forced to build homes or apartments, state law requires cities to show they’ve planned for housing that meets a variety of income levels.
According to the latest RHNA figures, Claremont is required to plan for 1,707 homes, of which 553 need to be for those with very low incomes, 308 for those with low incomes and 296 for those with moderate incomes, according to a February draft of the city’s housing element update prepared after multiple community meetings held in 2020 and 2021.
The draft, sent to the state Housing and Community Development Department for review, prompted “a fifteen-page comment letter” from the state with recommendations for the housing element, the city wrote in a statement.
Since then, a lack in available housing consultants in the region has bogged down the drafting process, Johnson said in a statement.
“For a variety of reasons, these consultants are experiencing very high demand, which has resulted in slower than anticipated progress on Claremont’s housing element update,” Johnson said.
This was news to Gelfand on Tuesday, Sept. 20, who said the city “didn’t attempt to communicate this with us at all.”
Johnson did not respond to a request for additional comment as of late Tuesday.
A new draft housing element update addressing the state’s concerns is expected to be completed within the next 30 days, the city said Monday, and circulated for review before heading to the City Council for approval and submission to the state for certification.
Of the 539 cities and counties in California, Claremont is one of 199 jurisdictions currently out of compliance with the state’s housing law, according to the state.
That number includes cities that have housing elements under review or already adopted, but with minor concerns from the state, according to Gelfand.
In the letter sent to the city in July, Californians for Homeownership wrote that Claremont’s housing element draft needed “substantial revisions before it can be adopted” and that the nonprofit was not aware of the city “making significant progress toward that goal.”
In addition to Claremont, the nonprofit has filed suit against at least six other cities for failing to meet the state-mandated housing plan update.
“We chose the cities that we chose, because they were among the farthest behind,” Gelfand said. “Based on that, it seems unlikely that those cities are going to make any progress without somebody really pushing them.”
The growing wave of litigation against Southern California cities comes as the state grapples to build enough housing amid skyrocketing rent, home prices and high rates of homelessness. As a result, stiffer penalties have been enacted, aimed at noncompliant jurisdictions.
If the Claremont case reaches court, in addition to being ordered to adopt a housing element on an accelerated timeline, a judge may suspend permitting in the city and judicially approve housing development projects within town.
There is also the possibility of loss of grants and fines ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 a month.