Support the Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance

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Skid Row Housing Trust’s Star Apartments during construction

(see end of post for how to comment on draft ordinance)

The City of Los Angeles is seeking feedback on its draft Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance (read the FAQ and the draft ordinance).  The proposed rules would accelerate the approval of, and therefore the construction and inhabitation of, permanent supportive housing for homeless residents. Permanent supportive housing (PSH) is housing for homeless individuals or households that is not time-limited (that is, unlike many shelters, residents can stay there as long as they need to) and that includes services to help residents.

Abundant Housing LA strongly supports this ordinance. We supported and campaigned for City of LA Proposition HHH to fund the construction of more permanent supportive homes as well as LA County Measure H to fund services. We also happy that LA City has started to identify underutilized public properties as opportunity sites for permanent supportive and/or affordable housing.

Funding for PSH, more money for services, and free public land on which to build PSH could be a very powerful combination to help house homeless Angelenos. More supportive homes are badly needed given that last year homelessness increased 23 percent in LA County and 20 percent in LA city.

Unfortunately, these positive investments can be bogged down by local opposition to new permanent supportive housing. Our politicized planning system allows a few opponents to delay or veto badly needed homes even when large majorities of voters supported funding for more housing and services. This is why the Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance is a good law.

1. The ordinance raises the site plan review threshold for PSH from 50 units to 120 units (and 200 in downtown LA).  This means that larger PSH projects could proceed without needing to go through an environmental review process, require approval from the City Planning Commission and City Council, or face legal challenges and delays under CEQA.  Making more PSH projects ‘by right’ will help them get built quicker and help get more Angelenos off of the streets into good housing.
2. Instead of a politicized process, where people who already have homes can go to meetings and try to stop new dwellings for the homeless, the PSH ordinance requires common sense standards for design and construction. For example, the ordinance mandates how much space is required to be dedicated for services and common space in a PSH development; and requires testing and mitigation of soil if the site was previously used by a polluting industry.
3. The ordinance grant permanent supportive housing projects incentives similar to what are available for density bonus and transit oriented communities developments (higher density limits and height, reduced parking requirements and setbacks, etc. These incentives will help house more Angelenos, a vital goal given the city and region’s surging homelessness.
4. Allowing developments of permanent supportive housing on sites zoned public facilities using the zoning of nearby property, and allowing conversion/ replacement of residential hotels to permanent supportive housing regardless of underlying zoning are other good features to expedite badly-needed housing.

The City is seeking comments on the draft ordinance. To have your input considered for the planning staff recommendation report, contact cally.hardy@lacity.org by October 30, 2017. If you have comments after the 30th, email the planning commission at cpc@lacity.org


Chelsea Byers joining Abundant Housing LA steering committee

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We’re excited to announce that Chelsea Byers has joined the Abundant Housing LA Steering Committee as our Director of Organizing!

Chelsea will be helping Abundant Housing members across the city get involved in their local communities and neighborhood councils to advocate for more housing and lower rents. By providing resources, coordination, and training support, Chelsea will help our members to improve Los Angeles one community at a time.

Many crucial decisions about housing  in Los Angeles are made at the hyper-local level. Each individual neighborhood council has significant influence over zoning and development in their neighborhood, and even a single pro-housing voice on each council can make a big difference. Even more importantly, as few as 7-10,000 votes can win a city council race, so even a small number of dedicated local pro-housing activists can have a big impact on election and policies. With 100 active volunteers in each council district, we’d tip the scales of Los Angeles politics for decades to come. We could not be more excited for Chelsea to take on this project and join the steering committee!

Chelsea has a long background in progressive organizing work on a wide variety of issues. In addition to her work with Abundant Housing, Chelsea is the Chair of the Campaign to End the Statute of Limitations on Rape and Sexual Assault and a member of the Speakers Justice Bureau through the Community Justice Reform Coalition. She has organized dozens of public demonstrations for social justice, held vigils for political prisoners and whistleblowers, and earned media at the 2016 Republican National Convention for gun violence prevention advocacy.
If you’re interested in getting more involved in Abundant Housing LA, please consider applying for our steering committee. We have three positions open.


Strong AND Gentle: creative tension in housing advocacy

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design housing solutions workshop participants, photo by James Rojas

The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss wrote a book called The Raw and the Cooked focused on “categorical opposites drawn from everyday experience.” 

It may be that housing advocacy needs to value a similar binary.

YIMBY advocates have started to build political strength in order to support proposed housing and better rules. This means contesting for power at the political level, at hearing, online, etc. This ‘strong’ approach to movement building and advocacy is absolutely essential. But is it enough?
 
Planner and artist James Rojas has talked to us (steering committee member Mark V.) about “a gentler approach to housing.”  By gentle, he means techniques that draw upon peoples’ empathy, memories, and imagination to change attitudes and encourage more openness to adding housing.

His Place It! workshops let participants build models with everyday objects to encourage more participatory and creative planning. In James’ words, “Building with objects makes the participants use their motor skills. Intangible thoughts became tangible.” We spoke about the Design Housing Solutions workshop he and a group of urban planners and housing advocates recently led at the American Planning Association Planning conference in Sacramento.Jonathan P. Bell, Gunnar Hand, Fay Darmawi, Cathy Creswell and Connie Chung collaborated with Rojas on the session to investigate approaches to pubic engagement on housing.

When James facilitates workshops, he often starts by asking participants to quickly build “their first memory of belonging, shelter or home” in fifteen minutes, and then share what they made and the underlying memory with the group. James reported that “these memories tended to be happy emotions of belonging, place and home” and that by forming this memory out of blocks, toys and other small objects, participants “uncover knowledge about their enduring landscape and realize they have the expertise to shape it.”

This is certainly a better starting point than the tension, negativity and frustration that often infuses public hearings about housing developments.

After the icebreaker and self reflection activity, participants are prepared to work in groups to build models of housing developments. In James’ words:

“The communal nature of this process provided a platform that everyone participated. By giving teams little instructions they developed a variety of solutions based on their understanding of their built environment. Through building together participants quickly communicated and tested their visual and spatial housing ideas. Through negotiations, new ideas emerged.  In no time the housing models began to take shape and illustrated solutions for their imaginary communities.”

Exercises like this that draw upon positive emotions and let people act creatively to collaborate to design homes should be a part of the pro-housing toolkit. We still need to build power, and to use data and messaging to change minds. But winning hearts (and thinking of housing as a shared goal to add to the quality of communities, rather than a battleground) can also benefit from a gentler approach.