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The City Council also created a $100 million housing trust fund in 2001, although it was not fully funded until four years later, after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took office. And in November, the council will ask voters to tax themselves to fund a $1 billion affordable-housing bond, designed to pay for 1,000 new units of housing over each of the next 10 years. By then, however, the storm easily could have passed through. Any aficionado of Los Angeles real estate knows that the region has a cyclical economy, and that for every boom there is a bust.
Housing advocates were equally vocal about the affordable-housing crisis of the early 1990s, right before the real estate market collapsed, flattened by the disappearance of aerospace jobs and the Los Angeles riots. By 1995, Los Angeles had once again become a buyers’ market, and a decent place for renters too. Is that the picture for 2007? Councilman Bill Rosendahl — the outspoken representative for coastal communities stretching from Westchester to Pacific Palisades — doesn’t think so.
Flanked by a half-dozen community activists, Rosendahl responded in early August with perhaps the most dramatic response to gentrification so far. Frustrated by his battle to save Lincoln Place, Rosendahl called for a temporary ban on all condominium conversions throughout his district — the wealthiest in the city, and a huge beneficiary of the ongoing economic boom.
Rosendahl’s coastal district has been at the epicenter of the condo-conversion craze, with neighborhoods like Playa del Rey, Venice and Brentwood losing 1,051 rent-controlled units in his district since January, according to housing-department records. Another 3,058 rent-controlled units disappeared between 2001 and 2005, comprising one-third of the citywide total. “We are losing the middle class in the 11th District, and we’re not going to tolerate it anymore,” said the councilman, standing just a few feet from cheering Lincoln Place tenants.
Yet while Rosendahl spelled out the number of rent-controlled units that have disappeared from his district, he had no idea how many new homes and apartments have been built since 2001, let alone the number of affordable units. In fact, none of the projects being funded by the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund have gone into Rosendahl’s coastal district.
Then there are Rosendahl’s other housing policies. Before he won his council seat last year, he campaigned aggressively against Playa Vista, the biggest initiative to bring new housing to the Westside, which added 5,800 units, with 10 percent of the condos and 15 percent of the apartments priced affordably.
Housing advocates were nevertheless cheered by Rosendahl’s proposal, saying they hope that it will spur council members in other sections of the city — West Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Studio City — to propose their own temporary ban on condo conversions. Rosendahl’s colleagues have responded much more coolly to the concept, raising questions about whether they will even allow it to come up for a vote.
“I understand the passions of all this,” said Councilman Jack Weiss, a former prosecutor who lives in Bel Air. “But underlying all this are iron laws of economics. And it sure would be helpful to see him use some nonpartisan, non-aligned, hard-nosed economists before the city starts regulating basic economic activity.”
Economics are only one aspect of gentrification, however. Swelling real estate prices also have left a mark on the region's culture, consumer centers and architecture. In Silver Lake, Highland Park, even Skid Row, a sudden surge in economic investment has left behind art galleries and boutiques, fine dining and refurbished homes. In even pricier communities, soaring real estate values can cause entire blocks to be leveled, replaced by homes that are far more extravagant than what was there before. And that phenomenon has its own psychological toll.
Manhattan Beach’s?Fading Memories
Middle-class and even wealthy communities are not immune to gentrification, although residents rarely call it by that name. In Manhattan Beach, a bedroom community of 33,000 that has reached an apex of high property values and disposable income, middle-class families are fast being replaced by the rich and even the super-rich — high-powered attorneys, entertainment-industry types, professional athletes. It’s no accident that the town’s old Metlox pottery plant, once a contaminated brownfield, is now the site of a 38-room boutique hotel and day spa.
With wealthy buyers craving space, proximity to the surf and, if possible, a view of the ocean, developers in Manhattan Beach have been willing to spend more than a million dollars to buy up bungalows and ’60s ranch houses. In just five years, from 2001 to 2005, developers systematically eradicated 881 residences — the vast majority of them single-family residences — and built 928 new homes and condos in their place. The new single-family home of Manhattan Beach is at least twice as big as the one it replaced, covers the entire lot, and will very likely have an entryway up to 20 feet high. On the hill streets, the hulking new structures can measure as much as 10,000, even 20,000 square feet in size, towering over the few postwar houses that remain.