Housing Element Law Overview

California Housing Element Manual 5th Ed., Law, Advocacy, and Litigation (March 2023)

This manual is a summary of California’s landmark land use planning requirement for housing. The guide covers review, advocacy, and litigation for this plan.
Appendices include excerpts from California’s land use laws and materials from the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Updated March 2023.  If you have any questions, please email us at

Surplus Land Act Materials

The California Legislature amended the Surplus Land Act in 2019, AB 1486 (Ting), to substantially strengthen the provisions of the law to prioritize affordable housing development.

AB 1486 Frequently Asked Questions on the Surplus Land Act and a flow chart for the process.

Surplus Land Act (AB 1486)-Understanding the SLA (Presentation Slides on AB 1486)

In April 2021, the Department of Housing and Community Development issued guidance on the amended Surplus Land Act.

Legislative Updates on Housing Element Law

AB 72 Strengthens Mid-Cycle Housing Element Enforcement

AB 1397: Housing Element Law Site Identification Strengthened (Updated June 2021)

SB 166: No-Net-Loss Law Strengthened Fortified Housing Element Site Preservation Requirements

SB 167: Significant Changes to the Housing Accountability Act (aka the “Anti-Nimby Law,” Gov. Code, § 65589.5)

Inclusionary Zoning

Inclusionary Zoning Revitalized—AB 1505 (2018)

Inclusionary Zoning After Palmer & Patterson (May 2010)

Inclusionary Zoning: Legal Issues (December 2002)

Inclusionary Zoning: Policy Considerations and Best Practices (December 2002)

Inclusionary zoning policies require a certain percentage of all new housing to be made affordable to lower income households. Over 100 cities and counties in California have adopted such a policy. PILP has produced three publications on inclusionary zoning policies in California. The first and second publications discuss the legal issues relating to inclusionary zoning policies. The third provides an overview of best practices – suggested policy approaches that have proven effective in practice.

Locating and Approving Affordable Housing

Laws Affecting the Location and Approval of Affordable Housing for Families and Homeless People (March 2000)

This manual is a tool for affordable housing developers, advocates and local officials seeking support for their efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing in these critical times. It surveys the state and federal laws that provide rights, protections and incentives for the development of transitional and permanent housing for low-income households, and it explains how to use these laws without having to resort to costly and time-consuming lawsuits.

Rural General Assistance Project

Increasing Access to Critical Benefits Through the Rural General Assistance Project
by Lauren Hansen

This article was first published on, May 19, 2015
© 2015 Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law

Helpful Links

PILP’s Guide to Redevelopment Resources
California State Controller (See Local Gov’t Annual Financial Reports then Redevelopment Agencies Annual Report)
Redevelopment Agency Dissolution – Department of Finance
California Dept. of Housing & Community Development (HCD)


We expand the abilities of local attorneys by providing comprehensive substantive law and skills training, including:

*Affordable housing laws, including housing elements
*Fair Housing
*Relocation assistance
*Securing benefits for vulnerable youth and their families
*General Assistance/General Relief
*Affordable Care Act
*County Indigent Health Care
*Foster care and Supplemental Security Income Benefits

In addition to courtroom victories for our clients, the attorneys for local legal aid organizations learn how they can bring effective impact litigation and advocacy to achieve maximum results for their clients.