Bay Area Towns Weigh ‘Infantilizing’ Proposals to Avoid State Housing Mandates

In another desperate bid to avoid rezoning for affordable housing, some Bay Area towns are pushing housing for developmentally disabled adults as an alternative—but the proposals are likely illegal, disability rights advocates say.

2 minute read

February 13, 2023, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

The San Francisco Bay Area’s creativity knows no bounds—when it comes to finding new ways to skirt California housing production quotas. In Hillsborough, one resident proposed a novel loophole: “build a segregated development specifically for developmentally disabled adults, thus preventing a potential influx of other unwanted ‘low-income’ neighbors.” Alex Shultz and Eric Ting report on the story for SFGate.

Hillsborough, which is required by the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) to permit zoning for 554 additional units by 2031, is just one of many wealthy enclaves to resist RHNA mandates to make more housing available for “very low-income” households.

For the resident who made the proposal, housing for developmentally disabled people is far preferable to housing for low-income families because he sees it as less of a disruption to the community. A councilmember from nearby Woodside, who last year suggested that his town should designate itself as a mountain lion habitat to avoid building new housing, quickly made a comparable proposal in his town. A Portola Valley councilmember offered similar reasoning. “It will not have much impact on the surrounding community because they are very quiet, crime-free, they generate almost no traffic because almost none of them drive, and they are closely supervised 24/7,” he said, implying that low-income households would not be any of those things. 

Navneet Grewal, an attorney at Disability Rights California, says that while more affordable housing for people with developmental disabilities is needed, “we believe that the housing needs to be integrated.” Grewal added, “We’re opposed to just creating more institutions. There needs to be a mix of incomes and types of units offered.” Moreover, segregating a group of people in an institutional setting can have legal implications. According to Grewal, “Anytime you restrict housing to just one type of person you risk violating numerous federal and state housing laws.”  

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