Guide to Advocacy for Farm Worker Housing
in 6th Cycle Housing Elements

by Jennifer Coile, Strategic Advisor

December 19, 2022


This guide describes advocacy activities of House Farm Workers! (HFW!) of Ventura County within the process of updating 6th Cycle (2021-2029) Housing Elements (HE) and offers strategies based on HFW!’s experience in eleven Ventura County jurisdictions from 2019 to 2022.



Building Relationships

Mechanics Of Involvement In Housing Element Update Process

An Example Of Advocacy Work: HFW!

After The Final Housing Element Is Certified

Support Resources

Background of Jennifer Coile
Attachments: Example Documents

Why Housing Elements are Important – and Difficult

The Housing Element is one of the seven required chapters of each City/County’s General Plan required by the State of California. Unlike other chapters of the general plan, State law requires the Housing Element to be updated every seven-eight years (in some cases, four years). Each City and County in California is assigned housing goals in four income categories for the HE period and must identify policies and programs designed to reach that goal. It’s understood that local governments can’t force the private market or non-profit developers to build or rehabilitate housing, but the HE includes analysis of constraints to housing development and programs to address any constraints. The needs of special groups of the population such as elderly, disabled, large families, and farmworkers must also be evaluated, and commitments made to address those needs.

Adopting a program in the HE is a binding commitment, and the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) requires an annual report on each City’s or County’s progress in implementing the programs in the HE. HCD has staff dedicated to enforcement and accountability. Involvement in the HE update process is time-consuming, but can be valuable because it locks in City/County commitments to policies and programs (with timing and funding) that affect affordable housing for the next eight years.

HEs are lengthy and complex documents – rarely fewer than 80 pages. As the statewide housing crisis has deepened, the State legislature has stepped up the pace of frequently adopting new legislation related to affordable housing (more than 30 bills in each of the past two years). Given the challenges of limitations on staff and volunteer time and energy, HFW! evolved from an overall HE review to focusing on the description of farmworker housing needs and the HE’s program of actions. Activists can consider prioritizing focused review of certain topics rather than the entire HE document. HCD is particularly interested in local knowledge about proposed housing sites.


Preparing for involvement

Contact the Planning or Community Development staff of your city/county of interest and ask to be added to mail/email contact lists to receive notifications about the HE process and public meetings and hearings. HFW! staff began this in 2019.

Introduce yourselves to staff responsible for the HE. Ask if there are any advisory committees you could join or stakeholder meetings you could attend.  Present yourself as a potential partner in developing an award-winning and effective HE.

Read the current HE (Housing Element Download Tool | California Department of Housing and Community Development) and most recent Annual Report to HCD on HE Progress Annual Progress Reports ( (due April 1 for prior calendar year) – both can be viewed on the HCD website.

Review the Action Plan in the current HE and achievements so far and make preliminary list of data/information sources useful in HE update.

HFW! staff drafted a HE Advocacy Packet for volunteers on City Committees to prepare for the HE Process, as well as a city background document that included the staff contact info, notes on communications with staff (especially update schedule), and excerpts from the current (2014-2021) HE that dealt with farmworker housing.

Building relationships with decisionmakers and staff

Remember: it takes 3 out of 5 (or 4 of 7, 6 of 9) votes on the Planning Commission/City Council/Board of Supervisors to approve anything desirable or block anything terrible

Elected officials (and appointed officials such as Planning Commissioners): It is strategic to get to know your elected officials long before you need their vote on the Housing Element.  Establish rapport by working jointly on something you agree on: volunteer work, holiday parade/event, asking questions at candidate forums that make them shine.

Besides introducing your group or committee, an agenda for an introductory meeting with new elected officials could include an offer to provide information or research on housing topics of interest to the official.

The orientation of newly elected officials varies from city to city. They may have attended a California League of Cities orientation for new officials, but the December 2020 curriculum included just one hour on California land use and housing regulations in the day and a half meeting. The curriculum emphasized the rules for conducting meetings, Brown Act, ethics, and Public Records Act. Your official may have a specific interest or question – “can you tell me what other cities are charging for in-lieu housing fees?” – that you could help with.

Staff:  HFW! can provide examples from numerous cities in the HE update process showing the value of establishing good rapport/cordial relationships with City staff. Sometimes staff shared draft documents and sought HFW! input in advance of public meetings. In several cases, staff were willing to meet with HFW! committee members to discuss topics in depth outside of the formal public meetings with three minute comment limits and little back-and-forth. An informal discussion of prominent HFW! Board members with Ventura County senior staff led to a key change in the HE program dealing with the constraint of competing development regulations from a variety of agencies who have overlapping jurisdiction. Initially, County staff acknowledged the problem but were unsure of how it might be resolved. After meeting with HFW!, they revised the HE program wording to recommend steps towards developing solutions.

Collaboration with Community and Allies

Community members: Begin to identify community members/leaders, especially those active in community organizations, and listen to their stories, paying special attention to those related to housing. Examples include churches, parent-teacher-student organizations or committees, local serving non-profits, construction unions, and for HFW!’s focus on farmworker housing: agencies such as Ventura County’s Farmworker Resource Program, Migrant Education Programs within School Districts, and health clinics.

Allies: Analyze potential partner groups and leaders in the community who might sign on to a comment letter, speak at a public hearing or meeting, write a letter/comment for newspaper or social media. Contact organizations who could testify/make comments that complement yours and support  them by adding you to their letters and comments. An example letter of April 1, 2021, signed by six representatives or organizations to comment on the City of Oxnard HE, is attached. HFW!’s ally groups in this HE Update cycle included the Homes For All Alliance, Vulnerable Populations Affordable Housing Network, Ventura Social Services Task Force, Santa Clara Valley Together, and YIMBY Ventura County. Check for a local representative of YIMBY’s Campaign for Fair Housing Elements at

HFW! facilitated the creation of the Fillmore/Piru Affordable Housing Task Force, which held a “Town Hall” meeting on in August 2022 to supplement the public workshops sponsored by the City of Fillmore.

Mechanics Of Involvement In Housing Element Update Process

The cycle of community engagement, public hearings, and released documents

Look for each city’s schedule of the HE Update process and start a calendar of community workshops/engagement events, public hearings, release of draft documents, and deadlines for comments. Some cities (or their consultants) create a separate website/subpage for the Housing Element update process. Often the documents are accessed through the City Council/Planning Commission meeting agenda information posted online, i.e.  attached to staff reports that are linked to the agenda action or public hearing.

Housing Element Process – Legally Required Public Hearings:

  • Planning Commission (PC): Draft Housing Element, PC makes recommendation forwarded to City Council or County Board of Supervisors (BOS)
  • City Council/County BOS: Draft Housing Element, approved for submission to State HCD
  • Planning Commission: Final Housing Element i.e. revisions to the Draft to respond to the comments of the State HCD, PC makes recommendation forwarded to City Council/BOS
  • City Council/County BOS: Final Housing Element, approve submission to State HCD for approval then certification

Public Hearing requirements:

  • Legal Notice of hearing (published? Emailed? Posted? Bilingual?)
  • Documents, such as Draft and Final Housing Element, must be publicly available in advance of the hearing (30 days; where – library, online, City Hall?); Staff report and resolution for PC/City Council/BOS action 3 days in advance of meeting per Brown Act requirements
  • Letters received during the comment period or at the hearing become part of the hearing record
  • 3 minutes for each speaker to comment at public hearing within City Council/County BOS meeting (sometimes shorter, e.g. 2 minutes or 90 seconds, if there are a lot of speakers)
  • Translation available at public hearing according to the practices of the City or County for their City Council/BOS meetings

Required Public Review Period for Drafts

Note that AB 215, signed by the Governor on September 28, 2021, amended Section 65585 of the Government Code:

  1. (b) (1) At least 90 days prior to adoption of a revision of its housing element pursuant to subdivision (e) of Section 65588, or at least 60 days prior to the adoption of a subsequent amendment to this element, the planning agency shall submit a draft element revision or draft amendment to the department. The local government of the planning agency shall make the first draft revision of a housing element available for public comment for at least 30 days and, if any comments are received, the local government shall take at least 10 business days after the 30-day public comment period to consider and incorporate public comments into the draft revision prior to submitting it to the department. For any subsequent draft revision, the local government shall post the draft revision on its internet website and shall email a link to the draft revision to all individuals and organizations that have previously requested notices relating to the local government’s housing element at least seven days before submitting the draft revision to the department.

(2) The planning agency staff shall collect and compile the public comments regarding the housing element received by the city, county, or city and county, and provide these comments to each member of the legislative body before it adopts the housing element.

Other Public Engagement Activities: (no specific number or format required, but encouraged by HCD)

  • Public meetings, workshops, pop-ups, open houses
  • Survey: online or on paper
  • Stakeholder interviews
  • City Council/BOS meetings of committees, subcommittees, commissions dealing with Housing and Community Development

Schedule of Involvement and Time Commitment

Ideally, building successful relationships with elected/appointed officials should start years before the HE update process begins, and certainly before the HE is adopted and determines city/county policies and programs for the next eight years.

It’s important to understand the timing of the cycle of each HE and begin work in advance of the process. (Northern and Southern California HEs are on different schedules.) To quote Ellen Brokaw, co-founder of HFW!: START EARLY!

Consultant selection and contracting: Watch the City website for release of Request for Proposals for Consultants to conduct the HE Update process, then track when a consultant proposal is attached to a contract for City council approval. When considering potential comments on the consultant contract at a City Council meeting, pay close attention to the scope of work for the community engagement process – how much is the City staff doing vs. the consultant, and plans for translation of written documents and interpretation at meetings, including indigenous languages if relevant in your community. The consultant contract will contain a schedule, usually month by month with approximate target dates for work products.

Time commitment: Be prepared for the HE Update process to take months after contracting with the consultant begins. A ‘fast track’ process would include:

  • Community outreach (no required timing, many cities devote 60-90 days)
  • Release of Draft HE – 30 day public comment period (required after January 1, 2022 by AB 215) – and advertisement of public hearings
  • Public hearing of Planning Commission (PC) and then City Council (CC) (could be achieved within 40 days, allowing for 10 business days to respond to comments raised at the PC hearing and incorporated into draft presented to CC)
  • Submission of draft HE to HCD for 90 day review period
  • City receives HCD comment letter by the end of the 90 days, makes appropriate revisions e.g. within 30 days, and then releases draft of Final HE that incorporates the revisions
  • Public hearing of PC and then CC (30 days depending on PC comments and how quickly they are addressed)
  • Transmitted to HCD for final review (30 days)
  • If HCD approves, CC action scheduled for certification (14 days)

Therefore, adding up the time periods, the process is a minimum of 284 days or 10 months. But the 2020-2022 processes  have typically taken longer, in part because of the impact of COVID on office closures and HCD’s delays in releasing the guidance to address the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing requirements.

Strategy/Tips for Effective Input

Consider overall strategy for inclusion of essential programs (within the Action Plan, Policies, or Goals discussion of the HE): Focus on your top three priority items. Mention them early in the process, check if they are included in drafts and addressed in staff reports. [Note: you aren’t limited to recommending three programs; some coalitions have submitted letters with ten or more proposed programs which were all successfully addressed.]

Focus most on Policies and Action Programs that will facilitate more affordable housing and access to that housing. Examples are rental assistance, multi-lingual outreach, financing, surplus sites donated to land trust, removal of barriers for undocumented persons to access affordable housing, overlay zones, first time homebuyer programs, and fair housing services to combat discrimination. Note: this comment is not intended to minimize the importance of commenting on the list of housing sites when you have local knowledge about their suitability/feasibility – HCD staff are eager to hear from you about sites that local people know are probably not realistic.

Give written recommendations at ALL stages including Planning Commission and City Council meetings and to HCD. Try to understand the local deadlines for submitting written comments that will be distributed to the decision-makers and included in the public meeting record.  Some jurisdictions stated in 2020 that “Comments on the HE can be submitted by email anytime/ongoing for months” but in that scenario, there seemed to be no clear identification of what the staff response is and whether the staff recommendation on that comment is or isn’t presented to the decision-makers.

Provide verbal testimony at meetings:  Whenever possible, tell a factual story and/or bring a person who is unable to find affordable housing or experiencing other housing problems, to highlight the need and reasons for your recommendations. A note about coordination of comments: keeping in mind the time limits on speakers (usually three minutes, but sometimes 90 seconds!), work with allies or team members to decide the most important/key concepts to say out loud on the record in the meeting (even if you have submitted beautiful written comments, what if no one read them beforehand?) and then: (1) either split them up (i.e. five people speaking for three minutes each could get through a list of fifteen comments in the total fifteen minutes) or (2) give a title to the list of proposed policies/programs such as the “Happy Homes for Everyone” strategy letter and then the speakers can express their support for that document without getting detailed on the specifics.  DO NOT have a series of speakers who repeat the same comment unless it’s something very short and focused: “I want to also say that there are not enough affordable apartments for large families with disabled family members because my family of six people looked for nine months for a place to rent.”

Recommend specific language to be adopted. State the HE page number and HE section number, and use track changes to propose text revisions, for example, that Program X should “add such-and-such wording that would make the program more effective and strengthen accountability to achieve it.”

Formatting input: A letter for comments in narrative format is acceptable, but when there is a list of comments/specific wording changes, it can be more effective to format them as a table. Columns in the table could include: topic, page number of document, quote from document, proposed rewording, comment/explanation for requested revision.

After the Draft document is revised and issued as Final: Check to see if the Final document shows the changes requested in track changes. If not, compare the Draft and Final with the comments that were submitted to identify whether the comments were addressed and changes made. If they weren’t, submit a comment letter on the Final that describes the original request and the wording in the Final HE that did not respond to the request.

Community Engagement and Outreach: people who don’t speak English

Make sure that the staff and consultant outreach efforts are culturally and linguistically appropriate and designed to maximize participation by all segments of the community.

HCD Requirements in Multi-Lingual Multi-Cultural Communities: HCD does not explicitly require cities to translate public meeting/hearing notices and other public documents of the HE process into other languages. But in April 2021, HCD issued guidance on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing ( which specifies outreach requirements on pages 10-11 and 21-22: “The preparation, adoption, and implementation of a housing element requires a diligent effort to include all economic segments of the community. AB 686 reinforces and builds on this requirement. The element must describe meaningful, frequent, and ongoing community participation, consultation, and coordination that is integrated with the broader stakeholder outreach and community participation process for the overall housing element.”

Based on HCD’s requirement for public participation and outreach “to include all economic segments of the community,” you could consider notifying HCD when you believe that a segment of the community is overlooked when there are no meeting materials in appropriate languages.

 Meeting Announcements: Monitor the community engagement process to check that announcements of  meetings/events and opportunities for comment are translated into appropriate languages. For example, the City of Camarillo does not currently translate any of its Public Hearing Notices. In the fall of 2021,  the “Notice(s) of Public Hearing” was written in English, with one sentence at the bottom: “Para asistencia en espanol, por favor de contactar el Departmento de Desarrollo Comunitario y comunicarse con Monique Martinez al 805.388.5360.” In December 2021, HFW! submitted a written comment to the City suggesting translation of the Notice title – the subject of the public hearing – in Spanish, with the sentence about assistance immediately following, instead of at the bottom of the page, and noting that ideally this would be for all public hearing notices and not just for the Housing Element update process. But by April 2022, Camarillo public hearing notices were only in English – the one sentence in Spanish is no longer included.

Interpretation at Meetings: Some jurisdictions provide oral interpretation in Spanish – and in the case of the County of Ventura, Mixteco as well – if a non-English speaker wishes to make a comment in the public comment portion of a meeting/hearing. However, there is rarely interpretation of the public meeting in Spanish or an indigenous language so that the Spanish-speaker can understand what has been discussed.

A notable exception is Housing Element Community Workshop #1 (virtual) in Fillmore which began with an introduction to the HE in English, with simultaneous interpretation in Spanish, and then the Spanish-speaking workshop participants were offered an opportunity to go to a virtual break-out “room” for Spanish-language slides and a fully interpreted back and forth of staff narrative presentation and questions and answers. Both the Spanish and English language versions were recorded on Vimeo and can be viewed at Fillmore Housing Element Update | Social Pinpoint (

Encouraging Public Comments – Legal Sensitivities: In addition to language, a potential barrier for individual farmworkers or others to speak or write a public comment may be legal status and fear of potential reprisal. In these situations, it is useful for a representative of the person to speak instead, and report that “a colleague, friend, or relative told me about….”

In past years, the managers of farmworker housing projects, such as those owned by the Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation, were able to assist HFW! with access to inform tenants about opportunities for public comments. Unfortunately this was not possible these past two years due to pandemic safety protocols.

Strategy to involve youth:   In Fillmore, HFW! is working closely with the “One Step a la Vez” nonprofit youth program to help youth become more familiar with the experience of making comments at a public meeting. With the encouragement of a supportive Councilwoman,  teens wrote out their comments and practiced reading them to check that they were under three minutes. Then they planned to attend the meeting in City Hall together, wearing matching t-shirts, so they would feel team support when making the comments. 

Solution to lack of appropriate equipment for virtual meetings: During the 2020-2022 period of online meetings and public hearings, some farmworkers and community members with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) did not have access to quality broadband service, home computers with appropriate camera/sound equipment, and/or sophisticated cell phones. Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), a nonprofit organization based in Ventura, developed an effective work-around solution: at a community center or office of the organization, they set up a computer, registered everyone who wished to speak at the City Council meeting, and logged on to the meeting. When the City Clerk called their name, each person took a turn sitting at the computer with camera to make their comment within the three minutes (or six minutes if their Spanish-language comments were also interpreted in English). When they finished, the speaker moved back to their original seat (where they were masked and distanced), the next person was called, and that person went to the computer seat to speak. This can be viewed in the City Council meeting of August 2, 2021  City Council Meeting – 8/2 – Aug 2nd, 2021 ( at minute 2:47 to 2:52.

The power of “lived experience” testimony: Statistics, data, and generalized statements can communicate about the extent of a problem but may lack heart and soul to convey the human suffering that the data represents. Examples from the August 2, 2021 Ventura City Council meeting (video at City Council Meeting – 8/2 – Aug 2nd, 2021 (

  • a woman formerly unhoused for 19 years, Irene Johnson, living in a riverbed, coaxed by a police officer to go to a homeless shelter, obtained a Section 8/Housing choice voucher, and then her case manager called landlords every day for seven months to find an apartment that would accept it; she has lived there happily for fourteen months, sober, stable, healthy, grateful [minute 2:38]
  • a disabled tenant, Liz Campos, evicted after her apartment building sold, searching unsuccessfully for a new apartment with physical adaptations to accommodate her injured spine condition [minute 2:53]

Who cannot grasp the impact of the lack of accessible housing for the disabled, or problems of landlords not accepting Section 8, after hearing these stories?

An Example Of Advocacy Work: HFW!

House Farm Workers!: Mission and Organization

The mission of HFW!, founded in 2004,  is “To promote safe, decent, secure, and affordable housing for Ventura County farm workers and their families through education and advocacy.

Organizational Structure for HE Advocacy: Education and advocacy work is carried forward by the ten person Board of Directors and committees of volunteers (City Groups) in six of Ventura County’s ten unincorporated cities: Camarillo, Fillmore, Oxnard, Moorpark, Santa Paula, and Ventura.

House Farm Workers! staff consists of the Executive Director and one part time Program Assistant.  Over the years, the City Committee structure has enabled HFW! to leverage limited funds and staff resources.

The Chairs of the City Committees are often members of the Board of Directors. City Committees have considerable autonomy to tailor education and advocacy to the needs of their individual communities.  In two cities, the HFW! City Committees have convened and chaired Affordable Housing Task Forces.  In two other cities, HFW! partnered with another organization: an affordable housing group in one city, and in Fillmore, a youth organization that includes many children of farm workers – One Step a la Vez.

HFW! volunteers represent a mix of backgrounds, experience, and professional expertise in affordable housing, in addition to interest in farmworkers. Committed volunteers have included a former mayor, retired County Planning Director, past Deputy County Agricultural Commissioner, Farm Bureau Executive Director, project managers for affordable housing developers, and farmers. Anyone is welcome to participate in the city committees, but people have tended to be knowledgeable about many of the issues and existing solutions. In one city, new volunteers felt overwhelmed by the technical expertise of the other committee members.

City Committee Chairs periodically hold special meetings together to share updates and generate ideas for city agendas and projects.

House Farm Workers! Commitment to Housing Element Advocacy Work

HFW! first engaged in Housing Element work in several cities in 2014 when the staff person submitted comment letters.

When the then HFW! Executive Director Sonja Flores prepared comment letters on HEs, she became so interested in housing policy and programs that she enrolled in California Polytechnic University- San Luis Obispo for a degree in City Planning! Next she started working in development of affordable housing and today is a Project Manager in the Development Department of the Housing Authority of the City of San Buenaventura.

In 2020, the Board of Directors identified work on the 6th cycle 2021-29 Housing Elements as a major focus, with initial steps of creating a “Housing Element Advocacy Packet” for volunteers and hiring a consultant to support the HE effort.

City Committee logistics: Each Committee has a Chair or Co-chairs, who participate in “All City Committee Chairs” (CCC) meetings, called as needed, to share updates and generate ideas. Agenda topics at the CCC meetings included updates on state regulations and exploration of topics such as requirements for multi-lingual outreach, and potential over-reliance on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to meet housing targets.

The City Committees usually met monthly, for less than two hours, with additional urgent meetings as needed to prepare for public hearings. The agenda for each meeting is usually formed by the chair in consultation with HFW! staff and/or consultants and when resources permit, summary notes of each meeting are made. City tracking sheets noted the dates of public meetings, emails/comments, document release, and committee meetings in one place.

In the HE update process, the committee chair would track the dates of community engagement events and activities (e.g. workshops and online surveys), the release of documents for comments, and public hearings. Emailing drafts of comments and coordination of presenters at meetings was essential between monthly meetings due to significant time constraints – often the draft documents were made available to the public just three days ahead of the Planning Commission/City Council Public Hearing in accordance with the state Brown Act. (This happened frequently in 2021, but effective January 1, 2022,  cities are required to provide 30 days for public review of the Draft HE.)  Zoom meetings helped committee members to practice reading draft comments and checking the timing within the three minute limit (sometimes reduced to two minutes or 90 seconds if a meeting had a large number of people wishing to speak).

In Fillmore, HFW! facilitated the creation of the Fillmore/Piru Affordable Housing Task Force, which held a “Town Hall” meeting in August 2022 to supplement the public workshops sponsored by the City of Fillmore.

HFW Board of Directors: Throughout the HE Update process, the HFW! Board reviewed reports from the All City Committee Chairs meetings at monthly board meetings. Acknowledging the complexity of HEs and conscious of the limited time of volunteers to review lengthy bureaucratic documents with very detailed analyses, the Board endorsed a focus of advocacy activities to include two priority programs in HEs and to commit resources for coordination.

Overall Coordination: HFW! found it helpful to designate a coordinator to track overall Housing Element progress in each city, alert City group chairs of document release and public hearing dates, help them prepare written and oral comments, and provide in depth analysis of inclusionary housing and other programs and policies. An example of a calendar of public meetings and milestones in the process is attached, titled “Overall Tracking Sheet: All HE’s in Ventura County.”

HE Comments and Requests for Programs

Highest Priority Programs:  Initial advocacy work involved proposing two programs to the County of Ventura, who adopted both:

  • Countywide Farmworker Housing Study: The City/County will (1) work with the County of Ventura, advocacy groups, and agricultural organizations to plan, seek funding through grants or other sources, for the implementation of a countywide survey of farmworkers, employers, and housing providers to further define housing conditions, needs and barriers to farmworker housing and (2) utilize the survey results to develop targeted programs and strategies to address the identified housing needs of farmworkers and to support agricultural businesses with a stable and healthy workforce.
  • Funding for the Housing Trust Fund Ventura County and permanent source of funding for affordable housing: The City/County shall continue to support the efforts of the Housing Trust Fund Ventura County, a local nonprofit organization that provides short term, acquisition and pre-development funding to developers of affordable housing. In addition, the City/County will coordinate with local agencies and community stakeholders on the creation of a countywide dedicated source of funding for affordable housing.

HFW! City Committees subsequently requested inclusion of those two programs in each city’s HE Action Plan.

Additional programs and comments: In addition to the request for two key programs listed above, HFW! and allies developed additional program recommendations that, although not specifically targeting farmworkers, would increase the supply of housing available to them by focusing on resources for very low and extra low income families. These included:

  • Inclusionary Housing;
  • Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Programs;
  • delaying payment of city impact fees for affordable housing projects;
  • ensuring adequate city staff to implement housing programs and policies;
  • tenant protections and rent stabilization;
  • identification of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to fulfill the Regional Housing Needs Analysis (RHNA) goals;
  • repurposing underutilized sites; and
  • requiring an annual public workshop to review progress on HE goals, separate from the public hearing on the Annual Progress Report.

Depending on the volunteers involved, in some cities, HFW! commented on the list of suitable housing sites. Another source of concern that could become a comment was public outreach in the update process, especially making sure the City offered appropriate access for non-English speakers.

Slate of programs: In several cities, HFW! worked on the HE collaboratively in alliances with others, and supported a slate of requests for actions proposed by the group. Examples include HFW! signing the “Homes For All” letter with eleven requests for the City of Ventura HE (all eleven were accepted) and the April 1, 2021 letter to City of Oxnard Planning Commission (attached).

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) and Programs: In 2018, the State legislature approved AB 686 with new and expanded HE requirements for affirmatively furthering fair housing. This required more in depth analyses of patterns of segregation, disparate resources according to poverty and race/ethnicity, gentrification; and the promotion of programs to address those conditions. HCD detailed the requirements of this complex exploration in 91 pages of guidance issued April 2021, which usually resulted in new sections of the Draft HEs of more than 50 pages. On September 29, 2021, the legislature passed AB 1304, 45 pages, with the purpose of clarifying AB 686.

When time permitted, HFW! compared AFFH programs in the HE to the recommendations in the 2020 “Countywide Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice” (AI), a document required every five years by recipients of federal funds from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The County and many of the cities receive grant funds from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME programs, and spend a portion of those funds for fair housing services.

In some cities, the organization of the AFFH programs within the HE was somewhat awkward because the “meaningful actions” to address fair housing issue identified in the AFFH section did not necessarily carry over specifically into the Action Plan of programs with goals and policies in another chapter of the HE.

Measuring Success

The most significant accomplishment of HFW!’s advocacy efforts was the early 2021 adoption by Ventura County of a HE program to undertake a countywide farmworker housing study, and for the County to take on the role of coordinating the study. From then on, HFW! was able to quote to the cities in Ventura County, including the four that were not the focus of HFW! advocacy (Ojai, Port Hueneme, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks), that the County was leading the study and the cities were requested to participate. Five cities included the farmworker housing study in their Draft HE Action Plan. The second priority request, action to support the Housing Trust Fund Ventura County and create a countywide dedicated source of affordable  housing funding, was adopted in full or partially by Moopark, Oxnard, Santa Paula, Ventura and County of  Ventura.  The attached table, “Sixth Cycle HEs in Ventura County: Status of HFW! Requested Wording,” provides specifics.

Communications Planning and Social Media

HFW!’s organizational communications tools include: a website (Why Our Work Matters – House Farm Workers!), e-newsletter sent to curated mailing list, and postings on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.[December 2021 newsletter December 2021 Year End Newsletter – House Farm Workers!] Posting on Facebook [(20+) House Farm Workers | Facebook] about City Committee/Task Force meetings helped attract new people. Otherwise, email lists were created and maintained for each City Committee to send the Committee meeting agendas, with links and related documents, to prepare for meetings and coordinate comments on the HE documents. Overview information about the City Committees and how to participate is posted on the HFW! website year-round Get Involved – House Farm Workers!.

The changing landscape of local serving hard copy newspapers and online news make sustained media communication more difficult than in the past, when (1) letters to the editor and opinion pieces could supplement news articles to raise awareness about conditions and potential solutions, and (2) it was possible to cultivate relationships with reporters over time who became subject matter experts. In February 2020, HFW! coordinated a meeting of the Ventura County Task Force on Farmworker Housing; fifty people, including elected officials and their staff, attended a presentation on “How Great is the Need? Developing a Comprehensive Action Plan for Farm Worker Housing in Ventura County.” The reporter at the Ventura County Star daily newspaper who covered that meeting,  New study of farmworker housing in Ventura County proposed (, and wrote many other articles related to farmworkers and County agriculture, transferred to another newspaper in Orange County six months later.

There were few television news stories covering the HE process in Ventura County (hard to compete with “if it bleeds, it leads”), although, in 2020 especially, there were news stories about the impact of the pandemic on farmworkers, the national food supply, and COVID-19 breakouts in seasonal housing provided by employers. This brought attention to the fact that farmworkers are essential workers, and that a safe and secure food supply requires a stable healthy trained workforce living in quality affordable housing.

HFW! has used Facebook Live events and posting video clips as tools to inform the public about advocacy opportunities and to attract more volunteers. The Ventura County Farmworker Resource Program (FRP) posts on their Facebook page short videos with health and services information in several languages.

Special Challenges in 2020-2022

The COVID-19 pandemic forced changes in how California cities conduct public meetings – the Governor issued an emergency order to suspend portions of the Brown Act requiring in-person attendance to comment at public hearings or meetings. Each City adopted their own procedures for submitting written comments by email and participating in meetings by Zoom online or by telephone. Over time, starting in spring 2022, some cities returned to in-person comments only in City Council chambers, and in some cases, a hybrid of in-person and remote via telephone or Zoom.

Reflections and Thoughts for the Future

Express Gratitude: It was more important than usual to be kind. HFW! continued to thank staff, consultants, and officials for their work and the chance to participate in the HE update process, whenever there was an opportunity. This built on the foundation of good relationships that HFW! established previously and has maintained over many years.

Working in Covid-19 Conditions: The pandemic offered opportunities – and obstacles. The closure of City Halls and move of public meetings to Zoom/online meant that those with the right equipment and internet signal strength could participate from wherever they were, with no worries about driving to a night meeting, arranging for child care, local transit schedules that don’t run late enough at night, or accommodating physical disabilities. But the virtual meetings also reduced community engagement events where less formal interactions, such as dot voting exercises, can facilitate deeper discussions than may occur in structured public meetings where oral comments are limited to 3 minutes. It is hard to anticipate the potential impacts of returning to open/must-attend-in-person meetings on HFW!’s approach.

Would facilitating more participation from people with “lived experience” have changed outcomes in the HE Update process? Perhaps the programs and policies would be the same, but hearing the stories of people with the lived experience might make more of an impression on elected officials about why the programs are important? Pandemic safety protocols made it more difficult to gather people, educate, discuss, and organize their participation in meetings where technology was required. Would Ventura area radio stations such as Radio Indigena be a useful tool for publicizing gatherings and meetings?

State Legislature: There were so many new State regulations to contend with! Changes in real time during the SCAG 6th cycle timeline – e.g. the AFFH guidance (91 pages) not released by HCD until April 27, 2021 followed up by 45 pages of “clarifications” in AB 686 of September 2021. Thirty new bills were approved in the fall of 2020 AND another 30 in 2021 — a lot for volunteers to keep up with.

When HFW! comments on HEs are ignored: HCD reviews appeared inconsistent concerning checking that HEs describe all of the public comments received and how the City addressed those comments. It is rarely mentioned – especially in the four cities (Ojai, Port Hueneme, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks) where HFW! had sent a letter rather than make verbal comments at a meeting. HFW! could consider being more active about reporting this to HCD and resubmitting those comments that a city overlooked to HCD directly. When asked about this at a meeting in November 2022, HCD staff stated that not every comment letter received needs to be attached in full to the HE, but a summary of public comments with the City’s response is required.

Participation by more people with “lived experience”: In a few cases in 2020, HFW! speakers were almost the only speakers at public meetings, which may have given us extra focused attention paid to our comments, but, disturbing to have so little voice of community members. Should there be goals of recruiting a minimum of two farmworkers to speak at every public meeting?  Work with allies such as the Mexico Indigenous Community Organizing Project (MICOP) to assist and explain when and how to participate? Seek written comments in Spanish or other languages and submit those into the hearing record? Record brief videos (without showing faces of undocumented) with farm workers speaking about their housing or search for housing, via StoryCorps, Arts Council youth/diversity project, community cable access, or filmmaking students?

Continue involving youth in civic processes: HFW’s program of activities to engage with youth at One Step a la Vez in Fillmore appears promising. One Step was founded in 2008 with the mission to serve the communities of the Santa Clara River Valley by providing a safe environment for 13-19 year olds and preparing informed, empowered youth who are equipped with the tools to lead; cultivate cultural awareness; bridge the gaps of inequality; and advocate for fair, just and healthy individuals and community. To help teens become accustomed to speaking at public meetings and/or feeling comfortable to participate in other government processes will be a skill that will last them a lifetime.

Although HEs are complex, and potentially overwhelming in length, HFW! kept youth engaged through a series of monthly meetings with experiences related to “bite-size” pieces of data and regulations. Perhaps HFW! could expand its leadership in incorporating the arts for youth in this way. Possibly grants could fund more arts-based civic education activities, potentially in partnership with architecture students, designing a model town for example, or creating zines to explain to their parents what goes on in City Hall. Admittedly housing policy and state regulations are fairly abstract, but the environmental education movement of the 1970s sought to incorporate design-based learning for K-12. Doreen Nelson, Frank Gehry’s younger sister, pioneered programs in Los Angeles (documentary about Kid City project in 100 Day Studio: Doreen Gehry Nelson & Neil Pinder – YouTube). Not to stray too far from the HFW! mission, possibly consider potential collaboration with high school civics/government teachers in the form of HFW! representatives (including empowered teens) speaking to classes once a year. And of course, share, share, share on social media.

Expanding input/monitoring of federally funded housing grants: Monitoring of housing programs and funding could also include closer attention to federally funded programs, especially the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Every five years, grantees must prepare a Consolidated Plan (Con Plan) and an Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice. Every year, the grantee must prepare an annual plan, derived from the five year Con Plan, and report on accomplishments from the previous grant year. The City Council/Board of Supervisors approves these documents after conducting public hearings. HFW! may want to consider additional focus on housing project and program expenditures and accomplishments, especially fair housing services. The next five year Con Plan and AI will be developed in 2024.

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH): Farm workers often belong to several of the “protected classes” or groups of people that have been historically subjected to discrimination for whom equal opportunity/fair housing laws are designed to protect, e.g. race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and source of income. The guidance for AFFH to implement AB 686 (90 pages issued by HCD on April 21, 2021) and AB 1304 (45 pages of text of bill signed by Governor on September 29, 2021) is complex. Over time, perhaps HFW! and allies may become more familiar with the AFFH requirements in order to better understand and comment on the implementation of AFFH in their local area.

Comments to HCD about HCD and HEs: Besides City-specific comments, HFW! could consider sending general comments to HCD, with a copy to the County’s State Senator(s) and Assembly Member(s), on topics such as the following:

  • Multi-lingual outreach: Although the HE does require reporting of how HE meetings were publicized and that “Local governments shall make a diligent effort to achieve public participation of all economic segments of the community in the development of the housing element, and the element shall describe this effort. (Gov. Code, § 65583, subd. (c)(8),” effective multi-lingual outreach may be lacking. One strategy is to check if persons of Limited English Proficiency (LEPs) have been documented in the jurisdiction. Federal funds typically require the City to adopt a Language Access Plan for LEPs when there are specific thresholds of LEPs in the community. If so, HCD could check whether the outreach to publicize HE participation opportunities synchronizes with the Language Access Plan. The City of Camarillo provided no information in Spanish; the comment letter from HCD on their Draft HE states: “Throughout the housing element process, the City should continue to engage the community, including organizations that represent lower-income and special needs households, by making information regularly available and considering and incorporating comments where appropriate.” But did HCD check how that was addressed in the Final HE?
  • Continuous comment period and official review of public comments: Some cities announced in meetings and on their HE website that comments can be submitted “anytime” during the months of the HE update process. But how can the public be sure that the comment has been provided to City officials for consideration and whether staff have supported or recommended against the comment if it isn’t brought forward in a public meeting? Furthermore, HCD appears inconsistent in review and compliance of the AB 602 requirements. Some HCD comment letters on Draft HEs stated: “While the element includes a general summary of the public participation process (page 1 and Appendix C), it must also demonstrate diligent efforts were made to involve all economic segments of the community in the development of the housing element, particularly lower-income households. In addition, the element must also describe how public comments were considered and incorporated into the element.”  But the Final HEs didn’t indicate that there was follow-up on this comment (for example, the four cities that ignored HFW!’s request for the program of the farmworker housing study.)
  • Whether HCD responds to questions submitted by email: Although the HCD HE website provided an email for questions (, HCD sent no response to clarification questions raised in emails sent on May 9 and June 2, 2021, which was disappointing.

After The Final Housing Element Is Certified

Tracking progress and Follow-up: Annual Progress Reports

The Annual Progress Report (APR) to HCD on Housing Element/General Plan progress is due in Sacramento on April 1 and reports on HE Action Plan progress during the previous calendar year. For example, the 2022 APR prepared in March 2023 will have to describe 2022 progress on the programs that HFW! helped to insert in the 2021-2029 HE.

State regulations require City Council approval of the APR, so it is often an item on the agenda of the last City Council meeting in March. It’s important to review and comment on the APR, especially if there is a lack of progress in an HE program.

The HCD website’s subpage on APRs Annual Progress Reports ( contains links to the APRs posted in the APR Dashboard at Housing Element Implementation and APR Dashboard | California Department of Housing and Community Development.

Monitoring Updates

There is no charge to subscribe to the HCD email lists to be notified about memos, announcements, and website updates to stay current with changes in State laws, regulations, and financing related to state housing planning, policy and programs. Sign up at Email Signup | California Department of Housing and Community Development.

Support Resources

Resources and Support from HCD

In addition to the State Code regarding Housing Elements (Housing Elements (, the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) publishes a series of Memos, posted on their website at HCD Memos ( The HCD website also contains the equivalent of an HE handbook or manual with template documents of best practices in their “Building Blocks” at HCD Building Blocks (  The section on Farmworker Housing can be viewed at: Building Blocks: Housing Needs – Farmworkers ( It does not appear to have been updated since 2014.

HCD’s Comment letters on every city/county’s draft and final HE can be downloaded at heweb_list.xlsx (  i.e.

The HE Review Report identifies the date that HCD received the HE from the City/County, therefore the start of the 30 or 60 day review period, and the analyst assigned: Housing Element Review and Compliance Report | California Department of Housing and Community Development.

Within the request form for HCD emails, there is an option to sign up to receive Housing Element Review Notification, which includes Housing Elements received for review and Housing Element letters issued.

Public comments on HEs may be submitted directly to HCD, but in December 2021, the HCD added this message to its website (bold italic emphasis added) about the timing of those comments:

Public Comments: As part of its review of the housing element, HCD must consider any written comments received from any public agency, group, or person. If an organization or individual plans to provide comments to HCD on a jurisdiction’s housing element, early contact with the assigned review staff member is encouraged to ensure that HCD is aware of this intent. To ensure that HCD has sufficient time to consider comments in the review of the housing element, written comments should be provided within the first 30 days of the review. Written comments can be provided directly to the assigned HCD Analyst or emailed to

Other Sources

YIMBY Campaign for Fair Housing Elements:  The Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) Law organization made HEs a priority and co-established the Campaign for Fair Housing Elements statewide. Their website  Campaign for Fair Housing Elements includes a Resources Section, with several “explainer” videos, but much of their emphasis so far is on understanding and lobbying about the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers. HFW! is less concerned with RHNA targets than with promoting the most effective means to achieve them, such as inclusionary housing programs, expanded funding sources to develop affordable housing, and housing overlay zones. The Resource Library subpage Resource Library — Campaign for Fair Housing Elements offers links to resources on topics such as City data, webinars of HCD and YIMBY, fair housing letter templates, recommended book list, maps, and the Kennedy Commission (Orange County) Guide to HEs. YIMBY also developed a “HE Audit Tool” Housing Element Audit Tool — Campaign for Fair Housing Elements with checklists to review HEs according to Site Capacity, Accessory Dwelling Units, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, Rezoning, Constraints Analysis and Programs, and Policy and Programs (detailed instructions in the YIMBY Heat Sheet: Explainer for the HE Audit Tool at YIMBY HEAT Sheet – Google Docs).

Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG): SCAG’s website offers Housing Element Support Housing Elements – Southern California Association of Governments with data and parcel inventory tool, in the SCAG region plus technical assistance such as educational webinars presented by HCD staff on HE topics that are of broader interest.

Others –  Educational Materials: HFW! studied websites and spoke with other affordable housing advocacy organizations seeking their “Housing 101” presentations in English and Spanish, e.g. Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH), Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing (SCANPH), San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, and California Coalition for Rural Housing. Many appeared specifically tailored to their geographic region and its issues, including unhoused people.

In 2022, HFW! participated in regional monthly meetings of  Local Early Action Planning Grants Program (LEAP) grantees involved in HE advocacy organized by SCAG to share experiences and ideas. Among the grantees was Long Beach Forward, whose Leadership Development Program includes the “People’s Planning School,” a free program with a range of topics “designed for residents to learn critical city planning tools and skills to improve the physical environment of their neighborhood and organize their neighbors for change.”

Mid-Pen Housing, affordable housing developer based in Bay Area/central coast California, prepared “Housing Element Best Practices: Lessons from Previous Cycles” Housing Element Best Practices – MidPen Housing ( in January 2022. Demonstrating sites and tools to advance affordable housing development is a key piece of an effective Housing Element. They noted that affordable housing developers and housing developers more broadly are frequently asked by localities to provide input on sites and policies regarding feasibility and impact, so they developed the Best Practices document with the message “We are here for this conversation. This opportunity to dialogue with our trusted local partners inspired us to assemble a set of case studies which profile effective examples from previous Housing Element cycles.”

The City of Santa Cruz 2017 “Housing Conversation Kit” was innovative to use at ‘house parties’ of two to ten people on housing issues, 636407471639300000 ( A stack of six cards presents facts about conditions and options for solutions to focus discussion and tally community opinions in a numeric uniform way. Generally this tool cannot be used when gatherings not permitted, such as during 2020-2021, but perhaps could be tried in a virtual meeting.

The easiest way to find presentations about HEs in Spanish is to search on YouTube under “Housing Elements in Spanish,” then numerous videos of presentations in cities all over California pop up.


In alphabetical order, House Farm Workers! thanks the following people for their help in the 6th cycle 2021-2029 Housing Element  Update process: Linda Braunschweiger, Ellen Brokaw, Priscilla Cisneros, Karen Flock, Sonja Flores, Veronica Z. Garcia, Susan Johnson, Mary Ann Krause, Barbara Macri-Ortiz, Carl Morehouse, Paola Munoz-Ortiz, Bernardo Perez, Joe Ramirez, Alondra Serna, Chris Stevens, Gabrielle Vignone, and Gail Weller Brown. You were all great role models of how democracy can work with civil discourse, the polite interaction of intelligent people who care about their community.

The partners at Ventura County in this HE process launched a countywide farmworker housing study – thank you Jennifer Butler, Ruchita Kadakia, John Novi, and Dave Ward. We believe this will ultimately result in desperately needed housing units for farmworkers and their families.

This Guide and the activities described herein were funded in part by 2021-2022 LEAP grant funds of the State of California, administered by the Southern California Association of Governments and the California Community Foundation.

In September 2022, a draft of this Guide was posted online and circulated for review and comment among HFW! ‘s board of directors and City Committees, as well as allies such as the California Coalition for Rural Housing and members of the Ventura County Housing Coalition.

Background of Jennifer Coile

Jennifer N. M. Coile is experienced in planning, housing, project management, and public engagement. She has worked primarily in and around local government, large and small, “on both sides of the counter,” either as consultant or staff member. Ms. Coile has particular expertise in coordination of multi-agency projects and affordable housing administration and policy coordination, including entitlement processes and Housing Elements..

With thirty-plus years of experience in California, she knows the fundamentals of the state’s unique regulations involving General Plans, subdivisions, environmental review, Housing Elements, tax credit finance, and municipal codes. Working in federally funded community development programs, she is knowledgeable about the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s programs to fund fair housing and safety net services, public facilities, and affordable housing.

In 2015-2018, she served as project manager of the “Farmworker Housing Study and Action Plan for Salinas Valley and Pajaro Valley.” Funded by a consortium of cities, counties, affordable housing developers, and nonprofit organizations, the project included a survey of 420 farmworkers and 60 agriculture employers, preparation of case study best practices, identification of potential housing sites, and review of the findings and draft action plan at a regional symposium of 220 people.

She began advising HFW! regarding farmworker surveys and Housing Element policies in January 2019, with more intensive coordination beginning in September 2020.

Coile has a Master of City and Regional Planning degree from Harvard University and Bachelor of Arts in History and Spanish Honors from the University of Maryland-College Park. She was a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners from 1982 to 2012.

Attachments: Example documents