Affordable Housing

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Affordable Housing FAQs

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What is Affordable Housing?

Housing is considered “affordable” based on the median household income for a region. The State Department of Housing and Community Development updates what is considered affordable annually for each county in California to meet increases in cost of living and inflation; more information can be found on their website.

Affordable housing rents and purchase prices are based on household size and the Area Median Income. The Area Median Income (AMI) is the midpoint of a region’s income distribution – half of families in a region earn more than the median and half earn less than the median.Levels of affordability are broken out as percentages of the AMI. The table below illustrates the 2017 levels of affordability by household in Contra Costa County, which includes Lafayette.  The median income for a family of four was $97,400.

Income Category

Percent of Median

Income Limit (Four-Person Household)

Affordable Monthly Rent

Extremely Low-Income




Very Low-Income
















Source: CA State Department of Housing and Community Development, and City of Lafayette, 2017

Click here to view the Affordable Housing Worksheet for Lafayette rental and for-sale units. 

Market-rate housing continues to rise and outpace what many community members can afford.  Trulia, an online data analysis company tracking real estate trends, notes that the median rent per month is $4,825 in Lafayette (2017).  Affordability is calculated by applying the standard that a household should not pay more than 30% of its gross income on housing.  Based on this standard, a four-person household earning $52,150 (for example, one parent works outside of the home, the other parent stays home with two small children) should spend no more than $1,304 per month in rent in Contra Costa County.

Because for-sale housing is so expensive in our community, ownership is all but impossible for lower-income households.  Trulia notes that the median sales price from May to August 2017 for Lafayette was $1,395,000.  Using a rule-of-thumb that a purchaser should not spend more than 35% of gross household income on housing costs, a household would need to earn about $243,500 per year to afford the median sales price – and that is after a 20% down payment of $279,000.

Lafayette is an affluent city.  Why do we need affordable housing?

While many of our citizens make comfortable incomes, the average salaries for many Lafayette community members fall below the median income, especially those in support industries and some employees in our downtown.  For example, the following table illustrates common current wages for workers in a variety of fields in Contra Costa County.


Mean Annual Wage

Hourly Wage

Affordable Rent

Fast Food Cook




Dry-Cleaning Worker




Retail Salespersons








Landscape Worker








Preschool Teacher








Dental Assistant




Auto Service Mechanic




Legal Secretary




Tax Preparer




Source: US Census, 2016.

What does the Lafayette General Plan say about affordable housing?

Adopted in 2002, the Lafayette General Plan establishes the following broad housing goals in its Housing Chapter or Housing Element.

Goal H-1               Conserve and improve the existing housing supply to provide adequate, safe, and decent housing for all residents, with emphasis on maintaining the semi-rural character of the City.

Goal H-2               Facilitate and encourage the development of diverse housing types and additional affordable housing units to accommodate a diversity of Lafayette citizens in terms of age and socio-economic background and to meet regional housing needs as quantified in this chapter.

Goal H-3               Expand affordable housing opportunities for persons with special housing needs such as the elderly, developmentally disabled, households with very low to moderate incomes, and first time home buyers.

Goal H-4               Promote housing opportunities for all persons regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or national origin.

What is the Housing Element?

Every jurisdiction in the State of California is required to update its Housing Element  every eight years.  This chapter of the General Plan is the only element that is required to be certified by the state.  It contains detailed demographic information, data on the cost of housing, and documents the need for housing that is affordable to lower-income households.  It includes goals, policies and programs to address housing needs in the community, and sets time lines for the completion of implementing actions. It also includes strategies to meet the Regional Housing Need Allocation or RHNA.

What is RHNA?

The Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) is the state-mandated process to identify the total number of housing units (by affordability level) that each jurisdiction must accommodate in its Housing Element. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) allocates to all jurisdictions the projected housing needs for each Housing Element cycle.  A key component of the Housing Element is the inventory of developable sites including both vacant and underutilized land. The City must ensure that the inventory of sites can accommodate the housing need allocation.

For the period 2014 to 2022, the Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) figures are as follows:

Total Projected Units Needed

Very Low Income

Low Income

Moderate Income

Above Moderate Income

Average Yearly Need














Is the City required to build this housing?

Currently, state law requires a city to identify enough land, zoned at appropriate densities, to ensure that affordable housing can be built by the private market.  The city does not itself build housing; market-rate and non-profit developers do.  In addition to ensuring there are adequate sites for housing, including market-rate housing, the Housing Element outlines a number of policies and programs to ensure there are no unreasonable constraints to the development of housing.  However, with the recent passage of several housing bills in Sacramento, these rules may change come January 1, 2018. The City of Lafayette is reviewing these bills to determine their impacts on our General Plan, Housing Element and the development review process.

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