Los Angeles Housing Development Update, 3Q 2017

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Welcome to the latest installment of Abundant Housing LA’s Development Update!

We’ll dig into public City of Los Angeles data to figure out what’s really going on in our housing market. How much housing are we permitting and building? How many of our new homes are single-family, large apartment/condo buildings, or “missing middle” housing? And how are we doing on Mayor Garcetti’s goal of building 100,000 new homes in 8 years? Where is the market headed?

This is a special edition of the Development Update because we’ve expanded beyond looking only at the building permits issued by the City (which allow developers to start building), and will now also be tracking building openings as measured by Certificates of Occupancy. Because of the increase in data and charts, we’ll be reducing our commentary somewhat. And one last thing before we get to he data: We’ve changed the methodology for how we track building permits; the change is described at the bottom of this post.*

Building Permits

For this post we’re looking at numbers through September 30th, 2017, the latest full quarter for which data is available. First up is a snapshot of overall permitting activity through the first 9 months of the year. As you’ll see, permits are roughly on track to land somewhere around the last two years, between about 15,000 and 16,500 units:


And here are the numbers behind that chart:

We’re ahead of 2016’s pace, which is great news. We’re behind compared to 2015 though, which isn’t so great.

Next we break down the units per building, looking specifically at what share of total permits are for projects with at least 50 units. As with total unit counts, building sizes are similar to those of the last few years.

Last for the building permit data, we look at how we’re progressing toward the Mayor’s goal of 100,000 new homes by 2021. Note that the goal’s start date is July 1, 2013, and the end date is June 30, 2021.

Certificates of Occupancy

Now, building permit data is extremely useful, but it doesn’t exactly correspond to what Abundant Housing really wants: homes for people to live in. For that we need to look at Certificates of Occupancy (CoO), which track actual building openings. We’ve started doing exactly that, and you can see the results below.

First a disclaimer though: The City controls whether it grants building permits, and how difficult or easy it is to receive those permits, but they don’t actually build the housing. CoO’s are what the developer needs when they finish the building so that tenants can move in, so it’s a measure of what’s actually opening to new residents. And since it takes a few years to construct a building, we’d expect to see a lag of 2-3 years between Building Permit and Certificate of Occupancy for the same project.

We raise these points because we want to make it clear that having fewer CoOs than building permits (which is what we see below) is not a failure on the part of the City. It’s what we’d expect based on timing, and it’s mostly out of the City’s hands whether building permits lead to real, on-the-ground construction. They almost always do, of course, but it’s not a guarantee.

With that said, here’s the data:


Within this time frame 2015 had the most building permits, so we should expect to see many of those units coming online in 2017 and 2018. We’re behind what we might expect for Certificates of Occupancy in 2017, unfortunately, but we will need to wait until the first few quarters of 2018 to really know what’s come of that (relative) flurry of permitting in 2015.

Next is the data underlying the above chart. We would hope that the pace of openings would be greater than in 2016, but that’s not the case:


And last, we’ve repurposed our “progress” chart for Certificates of Occupancy rather than building permits, and our progress suddenly doesn’t look so impressive:


Did you pick up anything else from the data? Let us know in the comments, and join us on Facebook and our mailing list to keep the conversation—and our advocacy—going strong.

*Methodology note: We are now excluding any building additions or alterations that add less than 5 units, which is a way for us to avoid counting permits that may not actually be adding new units. We also don’t count condo conversion permits, but do count adaptive reuse projects that add 5 units or more. Previous years’ numbers have been updated based on this new methodology so the data is comparable across time.

This change resulted in about 150 fewer single family homes in our calculations in previous years, and approximately 1,000 fewer single family homes in 2017. The jump in 2017 appears to be a result of recent changes to state and City law that permit the construction and conversion of accessory dwelling units. Since most of these ADUs appear to be legalizations of existing structures, we believe it’s fairer to not count these as “new” housing.

Talking points for new plans

purple line plan area

purple line plan area


The City of Los Angeles is currently updating many of its land use plans. So are other area cities, such as Long Beach.   (More on Long Beach soon….) We have a rare opportunity to influence community plans, transit plans, general plans, and zoning codes. We need residents to support more housing in every community to ensure that Los Angeles has room for current residents to stay in LA and for newcomers to move here.

We have the chance this week to attend meeting on the Orange Line Plan Wednesday night and Purple Line Plan thursday night.

If you are able to attend one of these meetings, or if you have a chance later to send comments on the plan, what should you ask for that would help address LA’s housing crisis? We have a few suggestions/ talking points:

1. Tell planners to set the new housing capacity significantly above anticipated population, and to study this level of upzone in the Environmental Impact report.

This point sounds a little technical, so we’ll try to explain it. Planners are required to conduct an environmental review a proposed land use plan. As part of this process, they will estimate how many new homes and jobs would be allowed in the plan area due to changes to zoning, and study the potential environmental impacts of these new homes and businesses.

LA plans tend to change zoning just enough to accommodate expected growth in population. For example, say that a plan area currently has 40,000 households and 41,000 homes (sadly, this reflects the reality in most neighborhoods where vacancy rates are low and there is not enough room to grow). Estimates show that another 4000 households are expected to arrive in the next few decades, so the plan calls for changing zoning to allow 4250 new homes. This means that there will be 44,000 households and 45,250 homes. Notice any problems? First, we are planning for low vacancy rates, which practically guarantees high rents! Second, what happens if there is higher than anticipated population growth? Third, the number of new homes ignores the fact that LA has hundreds of thousands of low-income households living in overcrowded housing and hundreds of thousands of younger residents forced to stay with their parents.

The solution is to zone for significantly more new homes than the future anticipated population. This will create “breathing room” to relieve the current shortage and tightness in the housing market. If we need more homes, there will be the possibility to build them. If the extra zoned capacity isn’t used, there is no harm, it’s just potential space for future expansion.

Abundant Housing LA recommends that all plan updates or new plans zone for housing capacity at least 50% above the anticipated future number of households.

It is also crucial that the Environmental Impact Reviews for plans study this higher level of zoning. If the EIR doesn’t study this potential higher zoning, it won’t make it into the plan.

2. Suggest specific areas where new homes could go

If you know the plan area well because you live or work there or visit it, you should suggest some places (sub-areas, streets, etc) where you’d like to see upzones, bigger buildings and more homes. These sites might be low-rise areas close to transit, places with lots of surface parking and underutilized lots, etc. Your local knowledge will help make the case for zoning changes and a better city.

3. Allow small apartments in ‘single family’ areas near transit

In editorializing last week about the need for more housing in the Expo Line Transit Plan, the LA Times made an important point about the irony of single unit zoning close to train stations: “Yes, single-family neighborhoods are part of the character and fabric of L.A., but it’s hard to see how the city can house its current occupants, let alone the growing population to come, without at least pondering looser restrictions that allow more triplexes, fourplexes and townhomes.”

We agree! We support diverse low rise housing. Our policy agenda calls for allowing a minimum of 4 units on a standard 5000 sf lot if the property is within a 1/2 mile of quality transit.

4. Eliminate parking requirements near transit.
It’s dumb to mandate on site parking for homes close to transit. Requiring more parking than developers and residents want makes housing more expensive; leads to bad design because parking spaces often shape the architecture more than human needs and amenities; and pollutes the air and warms the climate by encouraging driving. We believe that there should be no vehicle parking requirements within 1/2 mile of transit.

If you have other ideas for these plans, let us know!

Get involved in LA Plan updates!

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 10.03.26 AM

This week Abundant Housing is focusing on improving the Expo Line Transit Plan.

The city of Los Angeles is also in the process of creating or revising a number of community plans, transit corridor plans, the general plan, and zoning code. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is for pro-housing Angelenos to get involved in these plans. One of our key policy goals is for Los Angeles to increase its zoned capacity to create more “room for homes” and relieve the tightness that contributes to low vacancy rates and rising rents.

We hope that you can provide feedback and/or attend meetings for a plan where you live or work so that planners know that Angelenos want more homes of all types. It is also great to get involved with plans throughout the city. The housing market is regional, and more homes anywhere in LA can help address the crisis.

The following list of plans that are being updated shows how many opportunities there are to help make a difference by pushing for plans that allow and encourage more homes of all types. We will try to update this list as more meetings are announced and as we develop analysis and recommendations for different plans. You can also sign up via the links below to get updates and announcements directly from the planners.

And if you are motivated to advocate on one or more of these plans, please get in touch and let us know! We are looking for our members and allies to provide local leadership on LA’s new plans.
Exposition Corridor Transit Neighborhood Plan
The Expo line brought rail transit back to the westside for the first time in 60 years. The plan is going to the LA Planning Commission on November 9, 2017 at 11 am. We have an online action alert that you can use to send a letter encouraging more homes in the new plan.
You can also sign up for updates.

Orange Line Transit Neighborhood Plan
The Orange Line plan, focused near five stations (North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Sepulveda, Reseda and Sherman Way) is in an earlier stage than the Expo plan. There is a lot of low density zoning along this corridor that should be up-zoned. There is a meeting November 15 6-830 pm at Van Nuys City Hall, Council Chambers, 2nd Floor, 14410 Sylvan St, Van Nuys CA 91401 to get public feedback on their initial concept.
You can also sign up for updates.

Purple Line Transit Neighborhood Plan
There is a meeting November 16, 6pm to 8pm at Pan Pacific Senior Activity Center, 141 S Gardner St., LA 90036 focused on potential land use changes near three future purple line stations at Wilshire/ La Brea, Wilshire/ Fairfax and Wilshire/ La Cienega. These are great locations for more housing.
You can also sign up for updates.

Downtown LA Community Plans
DTLA2040 is the City’s process to update the two community plan covering downtown Los Angeles. Downtown has obviously been one of the places where the most new homes have been built in recent years, and there is a potential to encourage even more if mixed use development is allowed in some underused industrial areas.
You can sign up for updates and send comments.

Hollywood Community Plan
An update to the Hollywood Community Plan was passed a few years ago but was overturned through a lawsuit by anti-development groups. The city is trying again and we should encourage them to allow even more homes than the first version.
You can sign up for updates and send comments.

Boyle Heights Community Plan
Boyle Heights is already relatively built up area for a residential community but there should be space for more homes on boulevards and in industrial areas.
You can sign up for updates and submit comments.

Southwest Valley Community Plans
The first set of plans to start updates under the city’s recent commitment to accelerate new community plans are three plan areas in the Southwest San Fernando Valley:
Canoga Park-Winnetka- Woodland Hills-West Hills, Encino-Tarzana, and Reseda-West Van Nuys.
You can sign up for updates and fill in a short survey.

South Los Angeles and Southeast Los Angeles Community Plans
The South Los Angeles and Southeast Los Angeles Community plans were recently passed by the city planning commission and will likely be heard by the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee in November 2017.  The opportunity for major changes in these plans may be past, but comments could be sent to the PLUM committee and full council.

General Plan
Ourla2040 is the City’s process to update its general plan. They are currently seeking input on open space and culture but will also establish a framework that is supposed to guide land use rules in community plans.
You can sign up for updates.

Zoning Code
Re:codeLA is the process to fully update LA’s zoning code for the first time in 70 years.
You can provide comments and check for updates and events.

Abundant Housing letter on draft Expo Line Plan

expo line map


The Expo Line Transit Neighborhood Plan is being heard by the Los Angeles City Planning Commission on November 9, 2017 at 11 am. Abundant Housing LA has been advocating for changes to the plan to allow more homes of all types.

We encourage pro-housing Angelenos to click on our action alert, which will allow you to quickly send a message to the Planning Commission.

We also encourage you to attend the planning commission meeting on the 9th to testify in person on the need to allow more homes and better rules near six expo line stations.

The action alert provides key pro-housing recommendations for the draft Expo line plan. We also wanted to share the letter that we sent to the Commission. It provides more context on the need for a bolder plan and justification for the recommendations. It opens:

“Dear City Planning Commissioners,

We encourage you to amend the draft Expo Line Transit Neighborhood Plan (TNP) to make it a bolder plan worthy of leveraging our major investments in new transit, addressing the severity of the housing crisis gripping Los Angeles, and taking advantage of the opportunity to evolve transit-adjacent neighborhoods to become more sustainable, walkable and diverse places.”

download the full letter >

AHLA Letter to CPC on Expo plan