The NGM Housing Glossary



An acronym for “Accessory Dwelling Unit”. ADU’s are secondary units on the same plot, or attached to an existing home. ADU’s can be the source of additional rental income for a property owner and are becoming increasingly adopted by governments as a way of providing more housing for their population. ADU’s are also known as “granny flats”, or “in-law units”.


Affordable Housing

Affordable housing refers to housing that is accessible to those with lower incomes in relation to a region’s Area Median Income (AMI).



An acronym for “Area Median Income” meaning the midpoint of a region’s income distribution. Examples of local AMI’s (2016):    Marin: $91,000, Sonoma: $65,000, San Francisco: $105,000


An acronym for “Below Market Rate” which pertains to housing units that are priced at, or below, the average market rate.


An acronym for “California Environmental Quality Act”. CEQA includes additional measures that developers must face when governments require the individual review of a project. Most prominently, developments subjected to CEQA must go through an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) process that may take 8-24 months.


Community Development Agency

In Marin County, the CDA exists to protect public health and safety, preserve environmental quality, and plan sustainable and diverse communities. The CDA is comprised of numerous departments including the planning department which is primarily responsible for writing codes and planning policies in Marin County.


Coastal Commission

The Coastal Commission is a CA state agency in the U.S. state of California with quasi-judicial regulatory oversight over land use and public access in the California coastal zone.


Design Review Board

A citizen advisory committee that works closely with the board of supervisors, Planning Commission, Planning Division, and the local community. The design review board holds public meetings where applicants for development projects present their proposals and are given recommendations.



Developers buy land, finance real estate deals and build projects. Empty space or existing structures are converted into real property by developers.


An acronym for (Environmental Impact Report). EIR’s are a part of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act. The EIR examines the environmental effects of the continued operations of a development project and advises on ways to avoid, mitigate or offset them.


Fair Housing

Fair-housing is the right to choose housing free from unlawful discrimination based on factors like: race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability, etc. The Fair-Housing Act was signed into law in 1968 by HUD, the Federal Housing and Urban Development Agency.


General Plan

California law requires each local government to adopt a general plan which is a broad planning guideline to a city's or county's future goals that also provides policy statements to achieve those goals. A general plan must include at least seven elements, which are: housing, land use, open space, transportation, safety, noise and conservation.



Growth has many meanings, but pertaining to a region’s economy or population, growth is facilitated by development and must occur in order for a locality to remain healthy and prosperous.


Housing Density

Ranging from very-low density suburban to high-density urban, housing density is the number of dwelling units per acre (or square mile, or hectare) of space. High density housing is a more efficient use of space than low density housing because in places with greater housing density, infrastructure and transportation is shared by more people and in less space.


Housing Element

As part of a city’s general plan, the housing element provides an analysis of a community’s housing needs for all income levels, as well as strategies to respond to those housing needs.



An acronym for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. As a part of the executive branch, HUD has the authority to grant funds for housing programs and provide housing and community development assistance. HUD also aims to make sure everyone has fair and equal access to housing.


Infill Housing

Infill Housing is new housing constructed on vacant, underused lots interspersed among older, existing properties in established neighborhoods.


Inclusionary Zoning

Referring to municipal and county planning ordinances, inclusionary zoning requires a given share of new construction to be affordable to people with low to moderate incomes.



An acronym for Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit. A JADU is an additional living unit that is contained entirely within an existing living structure. JADU’s can be the source of rental income for a property owner if they choose to rent it out, and are usually not larger than 500 square feet. JADU’s are also known as “granny units” or “in-law units.”


Low Income Housing

As required in a city’s general plan, low income housing is generally defined as housing that is accessible (where an individual’s housing expense is no more than 30% of their gross salary) to those making anywhere from 30%- 80% of an Area’s Median Income (AMI). In San Francisco for example, where the AMI of a family of four is $117,400 as of 2018, low income housing would be accessible to someone making as much as $93,000 a year.


Marin Housing Authority

The MHA or Marin Housing Authority assists low and moderate-income residents of Marin County to secure and maintain high quality affordable housing. The MHA runs a number of home ownership programs that allow accepted participants to purchase homes at market rate or BMR (Below Market Rate).


Middle Income Housing

Generally defined as housing that is accessible to those making anywhere from 80%-120% of a region’s AMI (Area Median Income).



An acronym for Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the MTC is a public, governmental agency responsible for planning, financing, and coordinating transportation for the San Francisco Bay Area’s nine counties. The MTC works in collaboration with the ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) to create a strategic plan known as Plan Bay Area.


NextGen Marin, a think-tank comprised of young and passionate housing advocates. 


A classification of people who are generally opposed to any development in their local area. As an acronym for “Not In My Backyard,” NIMBY’s aren’t necessarily opposed to all development, just development they perceive as a nuisance to themselves.

Owner Occupancy

When building an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), a county may require the Owner Occupancy of either the ADU itself, or the primary residence meaning the owner may be prohibited from living elsewhere and renting out both structures on their property. Pertaining to JADU’s, Owner Occupancy is always required in the State of California.


Plan Bay Area

Also known as PBA, Plan Bay Area is a “roadmap to help the Bay Area cities and counties preserve the character of our diverse communities while adapting to the challenges of future population growth.” PBA’s 2040 draft plan addresses housing and jobs, transportation, and equity.


Priority Development Area

Also known as PDA’s, Priority Development Areas are part of ABAG and MTC’s regional plan to accommodate future expected population growth. PDA’s can designate areas to be eligible for federal transportation dollars, and are usually areas located within or near existing urban areas and public transportation. PDA designation aims to accommodate future residents sustainably.


Planning Department

As a part of the Community Development Agency, the Marin County Planning Department is primarily responsible for writing planning policies and codes, and reviewing applications for various development permits, use permits, and subdivisions in the unincorporated areas of Marin County.


Rent Control

Rent Control is government control and regulation of the amount charged for rented housing. Rent Control is commonly thought to be a solution to the housing crisis, however, it is not without its consequences.



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 Bay Area’s allocated housing number is determined by the Federal Housing and Community Development Department, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) must then develop a methodology to distribute this need to local governments.


Section 8

The Section 8 Program allows private landlords to rent apartments and homes at fair market rates to qualified low-income tenants with a rental subsidy. In order to qualify for section 8 housing vouchers in California, your rental income must be lower than 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI). Section 8 in Marin County is distributed by the Marin Housing Authority.



Sustainability is a term that has many meanings, but in relation to housing, sustainability refers to a region’s ability to sustain its own economy, social equity, and environment. These three concepts must work in tandem to achieve sustainability, therefore each concept is equally important.


Transit Hub

Transit hubs include train stations, rapid transit stations, bus stops, tram-stops, airports and ferry slips. As a part of California Senate Bill 35, developments proposed within a half mile of such transit hubs may be eligible for expedited approval and other incentives.


Use Permit

A Use Permit must be applied for and is required to obtain for the use of land or land development that has the capacity for a potential negative impact on the surrounding area. The approval process in Novato may take up to four months for a use permit.



An Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) sets a boundary around a city where development is curtailed in order to prevent urban sprawl and to prioritize growth of existing urban areas. A local government’s UGB is used as a guide to zoning and land-use decisions to improve efficiency through long-term planning.


Urban Sprawl

Essentially synonymous with “Urbanization”, urban sprawl refers to the migration of a large town’s population into low-density residential development over rural land. Urban Sprawl is thought to be detrimental to the environment because urban sprawl is new development on top of previously open space.



An applied request to deviate from certain zoning requirements of a land-parcel.


Vital Signs

Vital Signs helps Bay Area residents explore the region’s performance using a series of indicators: regional vitality and transportation, land and people, the economy, the environment and social equity. Vital Signs is an initiative led by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).


Workforce Housing

Workforce Housing is often interchanged with Affordable housing. Essentially, Workforce Housing refers to housing that is accessible to those of lower incomes in relation to the Area Median Income (AMI) which may be surprisingly higher than many think. For a family of four, the AMI of Marin is close to $100,000.



An acronym for “Yes In My Back Yard”. YIMBY is a movement characterized by embracing development locally.


Zoning refers to municipal laws that dictate how individual property can and cannot be used in certain areas. Zoning laws can limit use of land to prevent certain types of businesses from starting.

Zoning Administrator

The Zoning Administrator is a member of the City Planning staff. The role of the Zoning Administrator is to take action on Zoning Ordinance interpretations, Temporary Use Permits, Use Permits, Variances and other responsibilities assigned by the City Manager.


An acronym for the “Association of Bay Area Governments”. ABAG is a regional planning agency that is authorized to enact certain planning legislation. ABAG consists of officials from all 9 counties in the Bay Area, and aims to help governments meet their planning and research needs related to land-use, resource protection, disaster resilience, energy efficiency, and hazardous waste mitigation.



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