Land Available for Housing in California – A Review of Estimates and Actions for Increasing the Places Where Homes Can Be Built

This report was commissioned as part of California Forward’s ongoing efforts to understand – and overcome – barriers to diverse, affordable housing production throughout California. The chronic shortage of housing at all price points in California has worsened during the post-recession period as the economy has expanded strongly, particularly in the coastal metropolitan regions, while housing production has fallen well behind historical levels.

Specifically, California Forward commissioned this report to answer the following question: “Is there enough available land in urban-served areas to meet the governor’s goal of 3.5 million units by 2025?” For the purposes of this examination, “available” land was defined as parcels that have the necessary pre-conditions for housing, such as zoning, CEQA clearances and entitlements. It defines “urban-served” as land with access to infrastructure such as water, roads and sewer, and to services, such as fire protection and schools.

In considering available, urban-served land, the report looked at places capable of conforming to the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets through higher density, improved transit services, and proximity to employment opportunities. The report did not look at rural lands.

The state does not compile information on available land for development. Thus, this analysis looked at land inventories from five regional agencies, in addition to a recent UCLA analysis and an older, but wide-ranging, report from UC Berkeley, which use varying definitions of “available” land. The report concludes that there is enough available land for necessary housing if assumptions are made regarding future, modest increases in densities within residential areas, converting vacant land into housing, transforming commercial, industrial, and publicly owned sites to residential development and building housing on selected greenfield development (i.e., where is available and GHG targets can be met.) Put another way, there is currently not enough available, urban-served land identified for the state’s housing needs, but with reasonable expectations for some up-zoning and other changes, such land could be available.

Supply of available land aside, the research concludes the biggest barriers to housing production are not available land, but rather, a host of regulatory and marketplace red-lights which serve as barriers to development.