by Anthony Dedousis
Abundant Housing LA supports more housing (duh) and smart urban growth across Los Angeles. Our organization exists because Los Angeles has not built enough housing over the past decades to meet demand, and we want to be part of the solution. The first step towards solving a problem is recognizing that it’s there, and we can use data to prove that the problem exists, and to visualize the scale of the problem.
Fortunately, the city of Los Angeles maintains a detailed database of all new building permits (effectively, new housing construction) and certificates of occupancy (new housing completions) issued since 2013. I pulled these datasets into R, a data analysis software package, to tabulate this information at the ZIP code level and plot it on a sweet Google Map. This allows us to easily visualize how many homes (technically “residential dwelling units”, or RDUs) have been added in different parts of Los Angeles over the past 5 years. Read on for answers to your most burning questions about housing in LA, like:
- Which neighborhoods are adding the most new housing? Which aren’t?
- In which neighborhoods does NIMBY-ism have the strongest impact?
- Where does dense development occur?
- How have these trends evolved in 2018?
- Where can we expect new housing to open in the next few years?
Let’s go to the videotape…
Figure 1a: New Building Openings by Number of Homes, 2013-18
Since the beginning of 2013, the city of Los Angeles has added 52,000 homes. The white ZIP codes have added the least housing (0-100 homes), while the reddest ZIP codes have added the most housing (1,000-5,000 homes), with yellow (100-500 homes) and light orange (500-1,000 homes) falling in between. A friendly reminder: most of the Valley and parts of the South Bay are part of the city of Los Angeles (which is why their ZIP codes are represented on the map), and Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Burbank, and many other cities are separate from Los Angeles (which is why their ZIP codes are not on the map). A couple of findings that will surprise no one:
- Downtown LA is leading the way – it has added over 10,000 units since 2013, nearly a fifth of the citywide total. Of the 11 ZIP codes across LA that added 1,000+ units over the past five years, four are Downtown.
- The Valley is not – outside of a few dense patches near Burbank, there has been very little new housing added in the Valley in recent years.
- Neither is the Westside or South LA – we also observe relatively little construction along the 110 in the South Bay and throughout the Westside.
Let’s zoom in for a more granular look at central Los Angeles:
Figure 1b: New Building Openings by Number of Homes, 2013-18, Central LA
This gives us a better look at some neighborhood-by-neighborhood differences:
- Not all Downtown LA neighborhoods are alike – within Downtown, thousands of units have been added in ZIP code 90012 (Chinatown/Bunker Hill), 90015 (South Park), 90017 (Downtown/Westlake), and 90014 (central Downtown). But the Historic Core/Arts District (90013), Fashion District (90021), Boyle Heights (90033), and Lincoln Heights (90031) have seen very little new housing come online, despite rapid population growth.
- On the Westside, there’s Playa Vista and there’s everyone else – despite its small geographic size, Playa Vista (ZIP code 90094) has added 2,500 units of housing since 2013 (which is third-most in LA). The Silicon Beach neighborhood has added thousands of tech jobs over the past few years, including a Google regional headquarters, and most of the 2,500 units recently added are part of a single luxury apartment complex, the Villas at Playa Vista. The only other Westside ZIP codes that have added more than 500 housing units are Marina Del Rey (90292), and Westchester (90045).
- NIMBYism is fierce – many popular neighborhoods, like Venice, Palms, Westwood, Los Feliz, and Highland Park, have built fewer than 500 units in the past five years. Not surprisingly, many of these neighborhoods are hotbeds of NIMBYism, and have experienced sharp increases in the cost of buying and renting homes.
Of the 52,000 homes added over the past five years, about 55% are in buildings with 50 or more units. These taller buildings are critically needed, in order to allow more people to live near job centers and reduce sprawl and traffic. So where in LA is dense development occurring?
Figure 2: New Building Openings by Number of Homes, 2013-18, 50+ Unit Buildings Only
As you can see, outside of Downtown and a few other neighborhoods, dense development is hardly abundant.
- Dense neighborhoods are fast-growing neighborhoods – the neighborhoods that are adding the most housing overall (e.g. Downtown, Hollywood, Playa Vista) are also the ones that are opening the most housing in buildings with 50+ units. It’s hard to add a significant amount of housing without building taller buildings.
- Zoning matters – Downtown, Hollywood, Koreatown, Marina del Rey, and Playa Vista already have tall buildings, and are able to add more, because they are zoned for denser development. If major arteries like Venice Boulevard on the Westside and Sunset Boulevard on the Eastside were upzoned, you’d likely see construction of taller buildings along those streets.
- Wilshire Boulevard west of Koreatown isn’t keeping up – despite the historical presence of tall buildings along Wilshire, neighborhoods like Westwood, Brentwood, and Miracle Mile are adding few large residential buildings. This highlights how important it is for AHLA to support a Purple Line Transit Neighborhood Plan that encourages dense new housing construction and transit-oriented development.
Now, let’s look at 2018 only. So far this year, Los Angeles has added roughly 10,000 new units of housing. Where has that growth occurred?
Figure 3: New Building Openings by Number of Homes, 2018
The patterns we’ve seen over the past five years have continued into 2018. Downtown (90017, 90012, 90014), Hollywood (90028), and Koreatown (90005, 90006) are responsible for 40% of the new units added this year. No other neighborhood has added more than 250 new units. Finally, let’s check out the number of new housing units permitted by neighborhood. The city has permitted over 13,000 new homes in 2018, and we can expect them to open in the next 1-3 years. But where?
Figure 4: New Building Permits by Number of Homes, 2018, Central LA
Interestingly, new permitted development is spread a little more evenly than recent completed development. A couple of trends to call out:
- Downtown is #1 no longer – the Jefferson/La Cienega neighborhood near the 10 (ZIP code 90016) permitted 1,300 units so far this year. Hollywood (90028) is in second place with almost 1,000 units permitted, and Woodland Hills (91367), Toluca Terrace (91601), and the Historic Core/Arts District (90013) round out the top five. Only 90013 is a Downtown ZIP code; the other ZIP codes in Downtown barely permitted any new units.
- Uneven growth within these neighborhoods – the new construction in these neighborhoods reflects the impact of a few large-scale luxury projects, rather than broad-based development. As the Dodgers could tell you, hitting a few big home runs isn’t enough to win.
Three things that you can take away from this joyride through Google Maps and R:
- Outside of Downtown and a few other ZIP codes, most neighborhoods aren’t opening or permitting a meaningful amount of new residential housing, even ones that are located close to major job centers or along Metro lines. Abundant Housing LA and other voices for smart growth won’t be going out of business anytime soon.
- Los Angeles needs dense development in order to add significant housing capacity. The neighborhoods that added the most housing units over the past five years did so by opening and permitting buildings with 50+ units.
- Restrictive zoning makes it difficult to build densely, which chokes off housing growth in most LA neighborhoods. LA can’t grow without taller buildings, and LA can’t add taller buildings without changing outdated zoning laws. More upzoning along major road and rail corridors is needed, and Abundant Housing LA should carry that message forward as the city rolls out neighborhood transit plans for the Expo Line and Purple Line.
Remember, if you live in a neighborhood that’s not encouraging enough housing construction (i.e. almost everyone), make sure to tell your neighborhood council and your city councillor how you feel about it. Show them these maps, and ask them why your neighborhood or city council district isn’t doing its part to make housing affordable and abundant. Appendix: Methodology I defined new permitted homes by excluding the following permits:
- Any building additions or alterations that add less than 5 units, which is a way to avoid counting permits that may not actually be adding new units
- Condo conversion permits
- Permits with property valuation of <$502, which are almost all supplemental review permits.
I defined new housing completions by excluding:
- Any permit type other than Bldg-Add, Bldg-Alter/Repair, Bldg-New
- Any permit with 0 RDU