America's Worst Housing Crisis Is Getting No Action From City Hall
UPDATE: Miracles do happen. California leaders have finally woken up to our rent crisis, and are taking action.
Los Angeles is the most unaffordable city in America when it comes to the cost of putting a roof over your head. Rent is out of control. And even average home prices are laughably beyond the reach of a median-income family.
Forget that we have the nation's worst roads or that our public school system has crumbling classrooms. This is L.A.'s most-pressing crisis by far. The only new affordable housing opening up in a town where the per capita single income is $27,900 and the average rent is $1,716 is next to the curb. Cozy.
What's City Hall doing about it? Not much. The East L.A. Community Corporation, which develops low-income housing on the Eastside and beyond, reminded our leaders about that this week.
The organization notes that, as of today, six months have passed since well-meaning city Councilman Gil Cedillo declared that April 23 would be "Renters' Day L.A."
"We are at a moment of crisis," Cedillo said at the time. "We are in jeopardy of losing an incredible amount, an extraordinary amount, of housing stock for the poor. But not just for the poor, for the entirety of the city."
However, East L.A. Community Corporation is disappointed by the lack of progress since then. The group had this to say yesterday:
... The Renters' Day L.A. movement sought to establish April 23rd as a call to action, to city council members and renters alike, [as] an annual marker of progress in the implementation of legislative solutions to the city's housing crisis that both preserve existing affordable housing and prioritize funding for the creation of new affordable units.
Yeah, right! This is a city whose council approved giving $39 million of your tax dollars to Chinese developers who plan to build a twin hotel-apartment high-rise next to L.A. Live (and you know that's not going to be affordable to those taking home $27,900 a year).
Thirty-nine million! To rich people!
This is a city's whose mayor was a huge champion of the state legislature's deal that will give Hollywood moguls nearly $1.6 billion of your tax money over a five-year stretch.
Can you say priorities?
Half a year after Renters' Day L.A., the East L.A. Community Corporation says, there's been no action in City Hall on behalf of the people.
"We want to make sure the City Council makes a move," Mike Dennis, director of community organizing for the group, told us. "But there's been very little movement. There's a staggering affordability crisis in the city of L.A., and they're not doing anything about it."
Not only is L.A. not seeing much-needed affordable housing being built, but the lower-income units that do exist are increasingly being converted to condos or upscale apartments, he said.
In other words, Dennis argues, at a time when the vacancy rate in L.A. is expected to continue to shrink and rents are predicted to continue to rise, L.A. is actually losing housing stock for the middle and working classes:
Several projects could potentially demolish thousands of rent-stabilized units in the city. Massive amounts of housing is being converted to market-rate units. Redevelopment is being used as a tool for gentrification against communities of color.
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Wait, did he just bring up the race card? Oh yes.
While most of the members of the City Council say they're down with the everyday (mostly brown, black and Asian) Angelenos who don't work in Hollywood and who can barely afford an apartment, action is more difficult than words.
The political reality is that trying to get dense, multi-family structures built in L.A. can be impossible.
Older, whiter and wealthier homeowner groups and neighborhood councils tend to oppose this kind of development on the grounds that it makes traffic worse, attracts more people to the city's already overburdened infrastructure trough, and detracts from quality-of-life issues like parking and one's view.
Yes, we actually said that. Having a good view is an issue that can prevent others from even having four walls. The city is paralyzed by NIMBYism.
If you want to keep your job on the L.A. City Council or make a move to another office that represents our neighborhoods, you're going to want the blessing of those NIMBYs. They vote. They raise money. They raise hell.
The woman who makes $27,900 a year working long hours at a daycare center taking care of those NIMBYs' children doesn't have the time or energy to fight this fight.
Dennis of the East L.A. group says that City Hall's proposal to lift the minimum wage, currently at $9 an hour, to $15.25 in future years, is a laudable start.
But the corporation says that when it comes specifically to getting more affordable units online, "L.A. City Council members remain apathetic to a problem they have the tools to address."
It's time, the group says, to "accelerate the preservation and production of affordable housing.
Or, at least, the city could make the sidewalks a little softer—you know, for sleeping.