California cities are scrambling to comply with state-mandated housing element goals, and they may be scrambling too hard, as a state committee is going to audit whether the goals are too demanding and the penalties too harsh.

There’s been more than two years of housing policy drama both in San Francisco and in other cities around California over the state's new housing element goals, which mandate that cities build 2.5 million units of housing statewide by the year 2031 (here in SF, we’re required to build 82,000 new units). Cities that fail to meet these ambitious goals are at risk of losing out on hundreds of millions (or billions) of dollars in affordable housing and transportation funds.

San Francisco did manage to win approval for its local housing elements plans, albeit at the 11th hour. But the SF Board of Supervisors could certainly be accused of dithering on the process, and critics can point out that we’re still not approving much housing here.

Also, SF Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan have threatened to sue the state, claiming the housing element demands are “unfair legislative mandates.”

It turns out they might not have to sue the state. The Bay Area News Group reports that lawmakers in the state Assembly have just forced an audit of the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) that’s responsible for enforcing these mandates. Those state lawmakers say the HCD has been slow-footed in their approval process, and the penalties that could potentially be levied against these cities are too severe.

A March letter from state Senator Steve Glazer (D-Alameda) asked for the audit. “Serious concerns have been raised about the timeliness, consistency, and fair application of HCD’s standards and procedures,” his letter said. “While it may be due in part to cities failing to submit compliant housing elements, I am concerned a significant part of the reason is due to HCD’s unclear and inconsistent guidance.”

Glazer was granted his audit request by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee last week.

Plenty of cities were late in submitting their housing element plans, and the News Group estimates that 30% of California localities still don’t have their housing element plans approved (the deadline was last year for many cities). Meanwhile, cities are getting sued by housing activists, and being threatened with “builder’s remedy” projects where developers could just build wherever they want without local approval.  

But it might be that market conditions are stalling housing more than local bureaucrats not having compliant housing elements plans in place. High interest rates and inflated construction costs are forcing many projects to just crap out, and there may not be much local bureaucrats can do about that.

The audit is set to begin in the fall, but there is no announced timeline for its completion. And as the Bay Area News Group reminds us, a recent state audit on homelessness spending took “more than a year to complete.”

Related: State Issues Scathing New Report on San Francisco's Arduously Slow Process for Approving New Housing [SFNews]

Image: Joe Kukura, SFNews