Can We Develop Our Way Out of This Rental Crisis?
Organizers of a measure that seeks to make building more housing easier in Los Angeles say they have more than enough signatures to make the November ballot.
The people behind the Build Better L.A. initiative say they turned "nearly" 100,000 signatures in to the city clerk yesterday. Only 62,000 valid voter signatures are needed to make the Big Dance in November.
In a statement, organizers, including labor and affordable-housing advocates, say the measure would "incentivize developers to create more housing residents can afford near transit, and it will ensure that a percentage of residential units are set aside for low-income residents in Los Angeles on projects that receive discretionary zone changes or general-plan amendments."
This week's Build Better L.A. success sets up a battle with the anti-development crowd. Backers of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, namely the Hollywood-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the Coalition to Preserve L.A., want to take the city in the opposite direction in order to shut down high-rent, view-sapping projects.
That initiative is aiming for the March 2017 ballot.
The big divide here is whether you view residential development as a problem or a solution when it comes to L.A.'s housing crisis. Rents continue to rise, UCLA says we have the least affordable leases in America, and vacancy rates are at 4 percent or lower. Median home prices are now nearing the $600,000 mark.
The city grew by about 50,000 people last year, but it added only about 12,000 new housing units, Demographer Dowell Myers of USC's Sol Price School of Public Policy told us earlier this month.
Academics who study housing almost universally agree that adding units to a city's stock will ultimately alleviate rents, home prices and vacancy rates, even if the units are initially aimed at higher-end residents.
"Adding supply has to be a critical, central part of any solution," Jonathan Spader, a senior researcher at Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies, told us in March.
"L.A. keeps growing, but there is not enough housing that's affordable to keep people in their communities," said José Eduardo Sánchez, director of organizing for the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance. "Build Better L.A. ensures that more people have access to high-wage jobs and housing that's affordable. It also ensures that the residents who have created such a strong and vibrant Los Angeles can remain in the communities they call home."
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Opponents say Build Better L.A. will simply open the floodgates for greedy developers who want to clog the city with wealthy newcomers and the traffic they'll inevitably bring.
"Labor groups and others backing Build Better L.A. say they want to increase the city's affordable-housing supply — by encouraging luxury developments that tower over neighborhoods zoned only for low-rise buildings," the Coalition to Preserve L.A. said in a statement yesterday.
"No neighborhood will be safe," said Westwood community leader Sandy Brown, a backer of the Preserve L.A. initiative.
Former mayor Richard Riordan, perhaps the last Republican we'll see in that office for decades, also backs the Preserve L.A. measure, saying the Build Better L.A. plan will only raise the roof on rents.
"That plan will create overdevelopment all over Los Angeles, and a lot of apartments that rent for $3,000 a month," Riordan said. "We're seeing people displaced and homeless pushed out, and this idea just makes things worse."
Both sides have intriguing arguments, although one has academic veracity on its side while the other has a doom-and-gloom scenario for a city that's going to continue to grow on the global stage regardless of what happens at City Hall.
One side proposes to do something. The other says freeze.
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