Abundant Housing resolutions for 2019: Full time staff + More volunteers + Supporting members = More people in homes

by Brent Gaisford, Director of Abundant Housing

First let’s take a quick look back at 2018. We went big on the Expo Transit Neighborhood Plan. As a result of our education and advocacy work the plan was significantly improved, and in the coming years thousands of affordable and market rate homes for Angelenos will be built along the transit corridor. We also supported dozens of individual projects, which collectively will create 10,815 housing units, of which 1,021 are reserved and affordable for low-income families. We also stepped up our support for permanent supportive housing for the homeless, including the Rose Ave project in Venice and at the West LA VA campus. Finally, and in the biggest game changer for our future, we won the LA 2050 grant challenge in partnership with the United Way and the Inner City Law Center. Alongside a grant from CA YIMBY, that means we’re now in a position to fulfill some of our resolutions for next year.

Everything we’ve accomplished so far has been done by volunteers. The dedicated people who put in nights and weekends (and sometimes weekdays too – don’t tell our bosses) to fight for an LA where everyone can afford a place to live. In honor of our noble work, we call ourselves… The Dingbats.

I can’t believe what we Dingbats have done together. Now it’s time to go even bigger. We incorporated as a 501c3. And we’re hiring a full time Managing Director to lead the organization. I personally couldn’t be more excited to see AHLA get even bigger and better, but I’ve gotta admit I’m also a little nervous. There has been a heck of a lot of Dingbat blood, sweat, and tears put in to make AHLA what it is today, so we want to make sure we honor that going forward and pick someone amazing! So if you know someone incredible who you think might be interested in the gig (or if you are yourself), please share the job application or apply.

Having a full time Managing Director on board will help us fulfill our second resolution to bring more people onboard to volunteer as Dingbats. First, we’ll be creating new volunteer positions to write blogs and stories about the housing crisis and how to solve it, as well as creating infographics, videos, and other forms of media to educate decision makers and the public. We’ll be increasing our social media presence (housing gram, anyone?). We’ll help more people get involved in their local community by volunteering for a Neighborhood Council or speaking out at public meetings. And we’ll be recruiting new Dingbats to take the lead in new cities within LA County.

Our final resolution is the broadest. People who don’t have the time to volunteer can make a huge difference as well by becoming a supporting member and donating. Even if it’s only a few dollars, it goes a long way for a couple of reasons. First, a large, committed membership base is the most reliable kind of funding for a nonprofit. Second, that’s a huge selling point in convincing philanthropic types that we’re a worthy organization for bigger donations too.

Everyone who volunteers or donates to Abundant Housing each year will be a supporting member. All members will receive access to our forum. We’ve been trialing the forum within the Dingbats for the last couple of months, and it’s become the place where we do all of communication and coordination. We can’t wait to open it up more broadly so that everyone who cares about Abundant Housing can see what’s happening and join the conversation. When we outgrew our google group in 2016 we lost the ability for everyone in Abundant Housing to communicate with each other, and we’re so excited for this new platform to bring that radical openness back as we grow even bigger. Members will also get some cool schwag. Dingbat pins and these beautiful shirts are coming for sure, let us know if you have other fun ideas too!

With a full time Managing Director at the helm, more volunteers in the fight, and a dedicated group of supporting members we can transform Los Angeles. No one should live in fear of displacement or homelessness. LA can and should be a beacon, an affordable home to everyone who chooses to make a better life in our great city. The dream is housing for all. Let’s make it happen.

LA desperately needs affordable housing funding – but the linkage fee isn’t the right way to do it

The rent in Los Angeles is forcing more and more families into dire financial situations and even out of their homes and onto the streets. We desperately need more funding for affordable housing to help those in need. But the proposed linkage fee will do harm as well as good. LA can do better. We’ve identified nine options which will generate better outcomes.

The proposed linkage fee would introduce a fee of $12 per square foot for all new residential construction in the City of Los Angeles, and dedicate that money to funding affordable housing. However, the current housing crisis is caused by two things – a shortage of market rate housing and a shortage of affordable housing, and we can’t solve the crisis without addressing both problems.

The $12 / SF fee would add about 5% to the cost of building housing, and reduce the amount of market rate housing built in LA. The planning department’s own linkage fee study concluded that no fee was feasible in parts of the city with lower incomes and more affordable rents. Small developers who construct small and medium scale buildings that are more naturally affordable would also be hardest hit. That means the vacancy rate will fall even further, giving more power to landlords to raise rents year after year.

As market rents rise, more and more families then need subsidized affordable housing to make ends meet. For this reason, we believe the linkage fee is the wrong way to fund affordable housing. It’s like being in a flood and throwing people life preservers while opening the floodgates even higher.

On June 6th, the Planning and Land Use Committee discussed the proposed linkage fee. At that meeting, some of the city council members expressed these same concerns. As a result, they delayed a vote on the linkage fee, requested that city staff examine other potential funding sources for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and also encouraged staff to consider ways to reduce the costs of and barriers to building new homes and apartments.

This is the type of conversation – and urgent pro-housing agenda – that we have wanted to help advance since the defeat of Measure S. What is the best way to fund affordable housing? And how can LA change rules to encourage more new homes of all types.

We surveyed our members to identify those ideas, and here’s what we found.

First, there was a clear consensus around identifying funding sources which will create at least $100M of annual funding for affordable housing. $100M is the high end of estimates for funding created by the linkage fee. Let’s meet and exceed that bar.

Next, we identified the preferred funding sources to hit that target among AHLA members:

Affordable housing funding options

There is a lot of policy and politics that needs to happen to get these funding streams up and running, but here are some initial thoughts on the ‘top five.’

Funding option How it would work
Entitle and sell city-owned properties The city of LA owns more than 9,000 properties, many of which are unused for city services. Some of these sites are already being used in the public opportunity site program, which expedites permanent supportive, affordable and mixed-income housing. We wouldn’t want to undermine those important efforts, but additional unused sites could be entitled and sold to generate revenue for affordable housing. This would generate funding without requiring any new taxes or fees.
parking tax
By increasing the parking tax from 10 to 20%, the city could bring in $100M of annual funding for affordable housing. In addition to funding affordable housing, increasing the parking tax would reduce traffic, as well as promote walking, biking, and public transit usage. Increasing the parking tax would require a simple majority on a ballot measure, and earmarking the funds specifically for affordable housing would require a 2/3 vote.
real estate transfer tax
Real estate transfer taxes are assessed any time a property is sold. We propose applying a progressive system, with a higher rate of tax for larger real estate transactions (similarly to San Francisco). This would generate millions of dollars of funding for affordable housing without raising the tax rate for the vast majority of home sales. As with the parking tax, if the revenues were dedicated to affordable housing, the threshold to pass an increase would be a 2/3 vote.
Parcel tax A parcel tax is a tax which is calculated per square foot of land, rather than based on what is built on the land. Because of this, a piece of neglected, vacant land would pay the same annual tax as a similarly-sized property which is being used to benefit the community with housing or commercial space. This makes it a very good way to raise money for affordable housing, because it generates revenue and simultaneously encourages landowners to develop their property and stimulate further housing construction. Measure HHH created a parcel tax and was passed by LA city voters in March 2017. Would voters support another parcel tax to address the closely-connected challenge of affordable housing funding?
Short term rental (Airbnb) tax Dedicating most or all of the receipts from the tax on short term rentals / home sharing to affordable housing seems politically promising. The City has already started collecting the tax on many short term rentals, and this draft ordinance would dedicate 90% of the revenue to the affordable housing trust fund. LA’s current budget calculates that this tax will bring in $37 million per year total, so around $32 million for affordable housing. This would be a win-win for both legal, regulated home sharing in primary residences and affordable housing funding.

There were also a number of interesting write-in suggestions. A land value tax, a fee on vacant land, and a congestion fee were the most interesting. The first would probably require reform of Prop 13, the second an impact fee analysis, and the third a split in revenue between green mobility and housing needs, but we like this kind of big thinking.

If our goal is to identify a source or sources that add up to $100 million or more per year, then the short term rental tax plus either/or the parking tax increase and progressive real estate tax seem like good places to start. We should also look at models for selling public land in the context of LA’s inventory and public opportunity site program. And even though the modified linkage fee options were not popular with our members, we are open to a progressive linkage fee that exempts housing in medium and low income areas – if it were part of a broad package of funding sources and rule changes that would tackle LA’s housing crisis head on.

Please let us know if we missed any good funding ideas! You can find us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/abundanthousingLA/ or twitter @abundanthousing

In our next post on this topic, we will finish looking at responses to our survey – this time at 18 potential pro-housing rule changes that cover everything from community planning to the development process to building codes.

What’s next: More housing, neighborhood by neighborhood

March 7th was a big day for the future of LA. Measure H passed to provide services for the homeless, and Measure S failed in a historic landslide. Across both measures, 70% of Los Angeles voters made it clear that LA can still change, that we can become a more affordable, equitable city.

And we didn’t just win the vote. We have the momentum. There are now more than 700 of us in Abundant Housing, with more joining the community every day. The campaign also helped us build partnerships with the other organizations that we fought beside, and with labor, business, transit, and affordable housing advocates working together, we can, and will, change things for the better.

So, that begs the big question. Now that we’ve got the momentum, how do we move toward the long term vision of more affordable housing, less displacement, and a more vibrant city for all Angelenos? Over the last few weeks, dozens of people put forward suggestions and weighed in, and we’re really excited about where we’ve ended up. Without further ado:

Upzoning community plans. 35 community plans dictate what can be built on every parcel in LA, and they’re each going to be updated every 6 years. As they are updated, we need to make sure they are upzoned to allow more housing to be built across the city. To that end, we’re going to create policy recommendations which can be included and adapted into in all plan updates, as well as a playbook for how to influence each individual plan. From there, it’s all about local leaders heading up the fight in their neighborhood. If you’d like to step up and take the lead or get involved in your community, let us know here!

Upzoning transit plans. As new transit lines open, the surrounding plans are updated around the new stations. Similarly to the community plan updates, let’s make sure those plans allow for lots of new housing to drive down rents and help people get out of their cars and onto public transit. Similarly to the community plans, let us know if you want to help take the lead or join the team on transit plan updates in your area.

Win locally by getting more involved in neighborhood councils. You may have noticed a theme to the big objectives above – it’s all about winning local fights, neighborhood by neighborhood. Neighborhood councils are often dominated by NIMBYs (although good people are already fighting the pro-housing fight across the city), but that sounds like a temporary problem to us. Let us know if you want to get involved in your local NC!

Keep supporting projects. Don’t stop when you got a good thing going. So we’re going to keep fighting for projects which will create more affordable and market rate housing to alleviate the crisis. That means writing letters in support of projects and attending public meetings to counter the NIMBYs who always come out of the woodwork.

State level advocacy. We’re getting bigger, so we’re starting to have some ability to sway state level legislation. So let’s sway. We’re going to be tracking and supporting good state level legislation (and opposing bad legislation), as well as developing deeper relationships with other pro-housing advocacy orgs across the state.

We’re pretty excited about the next chapter, but changing the trajectory of housing growth in LA is not going to be easy. Because Abundant Housing LA is all-volunteer, things will only happen if we all step up and lead together. So, as always, if you have a great idea or want to weigh in, please let us know, just drop anyone on the steering committee a line!