The Regional Housing Needs Analysis (RHNA) is used to predict the housing needs of people at all income levels based on the Housing Element of each community’s General Plan (GP).

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), a regional planning body, allocates the specific number of units in each category that’s needed to meet projected needs for each planning area in the county.

The GP is used to project future growth within a specified area. For example, the Lompoc plan projects growth out until 2030.

A local newspaper recently reported that a state suditor says they audited the RHNA in three counties. They discovered what they perceived as errors which led to “lower, inaccurate number for Santa Barbara.”

Specifically, the report says: “With Santa Barbara, one such data entry error resulted in about 1,338 fewer houses (or about 5%) included in Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) assessment provided to the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG).

“The audit found the HCD didn’t properly consider housing lost during a state of emergency, such as the Thomas Fire, which destroyed more than 1,000 housing units in 2017 in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, the report said.”

I am most familiar with how RHNA works in Lompoc. When new housing projects that include 10 or more housing units are planned a condition is included that 10% must be low or very low-income housing units is included as part of the approval process.

The developer has a choice of providing the units within the project or paying an in-lieu fee that is used to provide those units elsewhere in the city. Typically, those funds are used by nonprofits such as the Housing Authority to provide needed housing.

To demonstrate that the housing needs are being met the city is allowed to include planned projects. Thus, Lompoc has shown that it meets the RHNA allocations on paper for several years. But does the city really need more affordable housing or is this just a numbers game?

In 2018 the city of Lompoc informed the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, a group that approves tax credits for low or very low-income housing units that 29 percent of the housing stock in Lompoc was used for so-called affordable housing. The next highest allocation in the county was 6%.

Currently, there are eight projects listed on the Lompoc “Residential Developments” webpage. Each contains additional allocations for low or very low-income housing units; some are exclusively in this category.

Three of the larger projects have been in the planning stage for more than a decade, therefore those low or very low-income housing units have not been built yet.

One 44-unit project was built, all market rate homes, and it sold out in a few months.

The affordable housing projects were approved in 2019 and are still in a hold status. But is the lack of these units important? Keep in mind that a General Plan is simply vision for the future.

I was a planning commissioner for several years; the community growth vision of the previous 1997 GP, created in the mid-1980s was never realized, and it seems plausible that the current 2030 growth plan won’t materialize either.

Communities hire consultants to prepare periodic RHNA reports, which apparently do not consider an overabundance of affordable housing units as a factor in future needs. In my experience these are just hypothetical numbers based on growth estimates that may or may not come true.

In the case of the report in question the homes lost in the Thomas Fire were likely to have been in the upper range of value.

This report may require some corrections to satisfy the auditors, but at the end-of-the-day it really won’t matter except to bean counters.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving for 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions, retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.