Abundant Housing’s policy agenda for the City of LA

Earlier this year we surveyed our members on what housing policies and funding sources they thought would help Los Angeles address its housing crisis. Our new policy committee, which brings together members and supporters with expertise in policy analysis, architecture, construction management, local government, research and writing on land use, advocacy, teaching, small scale development, urban planning (and living in and caring about LA!), worked from these responses as a starting point, and recommended a local policy agenda with 15 points.

The agenda is ‘time-stamped’ August 2017 because we know that conditions and opportunities change, and we will be flexible in pursuing opportunities and adapting our agenda to the city and region’s needs. What we want to stress is that:

A. No single fix can address LA’s housing crisis. To achieve a city with space for all our diverse residents, we need a multi- faceted package of reforms.

B. We believe that an impactful package of pro-housing reforms must:

  1. make ‘more room’ for homes;
  2. make it easier and faster to build homes;
  3. raise money for affordable homes;
  4. protect tenants; and
  5. encourage innovation.

You can download the agenda below. In coming weeks, we will profile some of the ideas in more detail.

Abundant Housing LA 2017 policy agenda


Letter from a Reluctant Gentrifier


Who Moves Into New Housing, And Why?

Homes at Franklin Ave & Las Palmas in Hollywood. Photo by Ian Freimuth.

For anti-housing advocates, new market-rate housing isn’t a part of the solution to the affordability crisis, but the cause of it. New housing, they argue, attracts higher income residents from outside the city, and those new residents drive speculation, rent hikes, and further redevelopment that displaces vulnerable households. They also create demand for new low wage jobs that provide goods and services, which exacerbates the affordable housing shortfall.

This was one of the key arguments made by Measure S supporters to stoke fear and outrage among Angelenos concerned about spiraling housing costs and homelessness: Additional supply begets additional demand, all in service of outsiders and the moneyed elite, and all at the expense of existing residents.

This conclusion depends on the premise that new housing draws in residents from other cities. If it’s not attracting out-of-towners, then the homes are serving locals who would be looking for a home whether or not the new housing was built. It would also mean that the demand for low wage jobs doesn’t increase when new housing is built, because the people generating that demand already live here. And if they already live here, it should be uncontroversial that they need a place to live, right?

For those reasons, it’s essential to understand whether the basic premise of this anti-housing argument is correct. Does new housing mainly serve to attract residents from other regions? As you’ll read below, an intuitive understanding of housing choice doesn’t align with that interpretation, and neither does the data.

Warehouse space converted to condos in the Arts District. Photo by Rod Ramsey.

Who’s moving into new housing?

The most fundamental question we can ask about new homes is this: Who are they for? The assumption by slow-growthers is that new housing is mostly for someone else, whether it’s snobby out-of-towners, wealthy globalists looking for a place to park their cash, or some other distasteful construct. It’s not for us, it’s for them.

Here’s what the best data available says: For the LA metro area, 68% of those who recently moved into new housing (built 2010 or later) came from within 50 miles of their new residence. That means over two-thirds of households living in new homes came from another home in the LA area.

For housing built between 2000 and 2009, 88% of recently-moved residents are from within 50 miles. The people moving into newer housing are overwhelmingly Angelenos, not interlopers.* They are you and me, and they need a place to live just like anyone else. Imagine where those 88% would be living if we’d built even fewer homes in the 2000s.

All of these newly-relocated households are making space for someone else in the home they just left behind. (Or they’re forming a new household by breaking away from roommates or leaving their parents’ home, which is great too.) New housing is typically more expensive than other options on the market, so it’s a safe bet that these residents’ previous homes are more affordable than their new ones. However it is a proven fact that many prefer to buy a new house that repair their current one. They might see it as an easier and faster solution, not many have the time or are willing to argue with their contractor on how to lay tiles in your shower room for instance.

Even if some people are downsizing into newer units, such as when an empty-nester couple moves from a single-family home to a less expensive condo, they’re doing us a favor. They’re making that home available to larger or younger families that can make better use of its space, or they’re giving a developer an opportunity to turn it into more (and more affordable) places for people to live. New condos selling for $500,000-600,000 are out of reach for many LA area households, but they’re within the grasp of far more families than a million dollar single family home. By promoting the density bonus and other incentives for these projects, we can get income-restricted units out of the bargain and extend the benefit of more housing to families living at a wide range of incomes.

So the Census confirms that most residents of new housing are from the region, and that’s important. When we don’t build enough housing, those people lose out on choices. And when they don’t have as many choices, they go looking for older, less expensive housing as the next-best option.

We’ve covered the 68%, but maybe you’re thinking that that leaves about 32% who aren’t from here. What’s their deal?

Newly-built homes at Broadway and Lincoln in Santa Monica. Photo by Ollie Siebelt.

Why do people move to a new city?

32% of those living in the newest homes are from outside LA, but how does development of new housing play a role in their decision to move here? For this question, it’s probably best to think about your own experiences and those of your friends and family.

If you’ve ever moved to a new city, just ask yourself: At what point did home selection enter into the decision to move? Did you say to yourself, “Wow, I saw they built this amazing new apartment building in Hollywood. I’ve gotta get out of Omaha and into one of those units.” Probably not. (But if so, please get a hold of us because you are a fascinating specimen and we’d like to study you further.)

For most of us, choosing exactly what home to rent or buy is one the last decisions in the difficult process of pulling up stakes and settling in a new city. We move to take a great new job, or to go off to college, or to chase our dreams for reasons that have very little to do with housing availability. We take the leap, then we figure out the rest as we go.

To the extent that housing choices do factor into our decision, it’s to figure out if we can actually afford to live in the new city. Most of the time we first decide that we want to move, then we decide if we can. Quite obviously, the supply of new market-rate housing isn’t going to be the thing that deters us. If we’re price sensitive, we’re not looking at new housing anyway. What could deter us, and absolutely does for thousands every year, is a housing shortage that’s driven up the price for homes of every age and quality. Our exclusionary housing policies pose no barrier to higher-income migrants from other cities, but they work better than any border wall at blocking out new low and moderate income households.

When we look at the data as well as our own personal experiences, the argument that new housing is attracting rich people and impoverishing existing renters simply strains credulity. It’s a convenient fiction that we need to move beyond. People move to Texas for the cheap housing; they don’t move to LA for the expensive stuff. So long as people keep moving to our city—and it’s a great place to live, so why wouldn’t they?—we need to keep building more housing of all kinds.


*Note: We don’t buy into the kind of exclusionary thinking that pits existing residents against future ones. It’s a zero sum solution in a world with a whole variety of positive solutions available, and it diminishes the spirit to approach community planning, and life in general, in such an us-versus-them fashion. We are engaging with the argument not to give it credibility, but to show how anti-housing arguments fail to stand up even on their own terms.


Pro-housing policies for Los Angeles

As we wrote in our previous post, Abundant Housing LA (AHLA) supports increasing local funding for affordable housing in the City of Los Angeles. Because LA needs more new homes of all types, we identified several good options that could raise money for affordable housing construction and preservation without discouraging development of market rate housing.

Funding for housing subsidies is a necessary but not sufficient part of the solution to our housing crisis. Los Angeles also needs to reform rules that have made it difficult to build enough new homes in the city. We need to improve tenant’s rights, and we need to encourage innovation and diversity in our housing. We believe that the City Council needs to advance a comprehensive package of pro-housing funding measures and rule changes.

To help us identify good ideas, we surveyed our members on 18 possible policy changes. The chart below shows them in order of support. As with the funding options, we view this feedback as advisory. We will not automatically support, nor limit ourselves, to the top-rated policies on the chart. The rest of this post gives a brief explanation of the top nine ideas.

Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 8.56.11 AM

1. Expand density bonus

Under the state density bonus law, developers can add up to 35% more units than are allowed by the zoning for a site if they also include affordable homes. AHLA considers this a win-win policy and we have supported many of the density bonus projects proposed in LA. Unfortunately, the program hasn’t been utilized by enough builders to provide a meaningful boost to home construction, partly because some developers find that the bonus provided isn’t big enough to cover the cost of including low-income units. This idea is to allow developers who utilize the full 35% bonus to get an even bigger bonus (e.g., 8 market units per affordable unit compared to approx. 3.5 in base bonus) if they continue to provide additional affordable units. We should note that the City was mandated by Measure JJJ to pass a Transit Oriented Communities incentive program to expand the density bonus near transit. AHLA supports this program, but earlier drafts did not substantially increase the market-to-affordable bonus ratio.

2. Require community plan upzoning

Since the start of the community planning era in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, these plan have downzoned the city, contributing to LA’s housing crisis. Even recently drafted community plans are stingy in increasing housing capacity. They allow enough new homes to meet expected population growth, and nothing more. We believe that the city’s approach locks in low vacancy rates and high housing costs. This idea is to require community plans to upzone so that the realistic, buildable housing capacity is at least 50% higher than the expected population for the plan area. This will provide enough “slack” and flexibility in LA’s housing market to help relieve the pressure of insufficient supply.

3. Eliminate parking requirements near transit

Requiring parking spaces for every new home adds to the cost of new units, takes space that could be used for homes, prevents some smaller properties from being developed at all, and encourages driving. We tested two policy ideas around parking reform. This one to eliminate mandatory parking minimums near transit was very popular, getting nearly 80% support. The other, to eliminate all parking requirements in the city, received fewer votes (just over 50%).

4. Allow small apartments in single family zones near transit

Areas zoned to allow only detached one-unit homes are the largest category of land use in the City of Los Angeles. Some of these areas are located right next to train stations, walkable shopping districts, and employment centers: the exact places where we should be adding homes. A compromise solution that allows more homes and keeps some of these R1 (and similar zoned) neighborhoods predominately low-rise is to allow small multi-family buildings to coexist with single-family homes. As one resident argued, if we are worried about mansionization (very large single family houses), why not let there be duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, bungalow courts, etc that add homes but fit well into the neighborhood?

5. Double CEQA threshold

CEQA is the state law that requires analysis of the potential impacts of public or private actions that need government approval. In the City of Los Angeles, developments with 50 or more new units of housing have to be analyzed under CEQA, and third parties can sue alleging that the environmental review was not done properly. These steps have slowed down or stopped thousands of new homes from being built. Many AHLA members are YIMBYs partly because they believe that blocking new homes in cities leads to more sprawl and climate impacts. We don’t oppose CEQA when applied to polluting or environmentally destructive projects, but we think that adding more homes in cities is usually an environmental positive that should be exempt from review. We tested two reforms to LA’s CEQA thresholds in our survey: Doubling the threshold from 50 to 100 units received over 70% support and decoupling CEQA from the number of new homes (tying it instead to the size and ecological value of land) received over 60% support.

6. Add staff + streamline process to cut approval time for new homes

There are many rules and fees that add to the cost of building new homes. Some of these are critical to the safety and quality of new construction. Others may be worth reviewing. One hidden cost is the length of time it takes for new homes to go through planning processes and building inspections. Because developers borrow money to pay for land and construction, the longer it takes to approve and build, the higher price they need to charge when finished. This idea is to hire more planning and building department staff, streamline procedures, and better coordinate between departments so that the time for approving proposed new homes is reduced by 50%.

7. Set density in general plan, details in community plans

As mentioned in point 2 above, the experience with community plans in LA is that they have tended to cut rather than increase the amount of homes allowed. This may be partly because community planning tends to encourage  a parochial and exclusionary attitude rather than a big-picture, welcoming attitude. This idea is to plan where growth should be allowed through the citywide update to LA’s general plan, based on objective criteria like proximity to transit and jobs, topography, need to reduce segregation, etc. Community plans would still exist and fill in details like design standards for new developments.

8. Give displaced tenants right to return

When rent-stabilized homes in LA are demolished for a new development, the developer has to replace these units with deeded affordable homes and has to pay the existing tenants relocation assistance. But the tenants will probably not be able to move back into the new development, because the required affordable units will allocated through a lottery or long waiting list. This idea is to give those households who were displaced by development a priority right to move back into replacement affordable units, if they choose to. Giving residents the right of return would help expand tenant rights and ensure those who are displaced also benefit from the new housing once it is complete.

9. Grant HHH funds without needing local council approval

City voters passed Measure HHH in 2016 to fund the construction of permanent supportive homes for homeless Angelenos and other affordable units. To receive money, developers of these homes need to provide a support letter from the Council office in which the proposed project is located. This essentially gives local veto power to City Councilmembers (and to any anti-housing or anti-homeless residents who may have a strong voice in their district). Addressing homelessness is a citywide priority, and this idea is to remove that local veto point.

We are pleased that the responses to our survey identified a mix of planning, regulatory and tenant’s rights policies with good levels of support. Creating an impactful package of reforms will require some additional thought.

Please let us know if we missed any good policy ideas or if you have favorites from our full list. You can find us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/abundanthousingLA/ or twitter @abundanthousing


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.
Increase
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.
Progressive
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.


The housing crisis won’t fix itself

When LA city and county voters voted overwhelmingly for investments in transit and affordable housing, and against Measure S’ restrictions on new homes, we noted the momentum that these victories would give to advocacy for more homes in LA.  We still believe that there is a new pro-housing majority in Los Angeles. We can’t, however, rest on our laurels and assume that we will magically get more homes and lower housing costs.

Without continued pressure, it will be easy for LA to slip back to a status quo in which it was very difficult to build or invest in homes. Politics and policies around housing reflect decades of slow-growth assumptions. Many public officials and private interests either have a stake in maintaining this disfunction, or will need encouragement to shift into a more pro-housing frame of mind. We need to be bold and strategic to change the dialogue around housing and development, and the rules that govern how homes are built and regulated.

Abundant Housing LA is still optimistic that we can make a difference. We are establishing local teams of members and supporters who can advocate for good proposed housing developments in specific places. This will help us work towards the vision we laid out just after Measure S of “more housing, neighborhood by neighborhood” But in this post we want to highlight troubling signs that LA is stuck in old ways on housing.

housing production going in wrong direction?

We just posted housing permit numbers for the City of Los Angeles for the first quarter of 2017.  While 3 months of data isn’t enough to predict the annual trend, the numbers aren’t great, nor terrible, when compared to the past couple of years. As we have argued before, the baseline rate of home building in LA is too low to meet population growth, so whether it ticks up or down, it is still insufficient.  The graph below shows that our housing challenges are part of a state-wide trend in which out “housing booms” create the same amount of housing as was built in “housing crashes” in earlier decades.

slide from Ben Metcalf, CA HCD

slide from Ben Metcalf, CA HCD

The recent decline in permits for small multifamily apartments of 2-49 units is somewhat troubling given their traditional role in providing more affordable homes.  Units permitted in early 2017 were proposed and entitled months or years earlier, so we’re not yet seeing the results of any recent shifts in policy or trends. We have heard anecdotal claims that the number of homes proposed in the City of LA has dropped in 2017, which could be the result of uncertainty over Measure S and/or the impacts of Measure JJJ. We will try to see if there has indeed been a decline in new applications.

Housing for the homeless facing barriers

Measures HHH and H represent an incredible opportunity to speed up production of permanent supportive housing for homeless Angelenos and pair new homes with services. The City of LA has also stepped up to identify publicly-owned sites that could be used for permanent supportive and/or affordable housing.  From Boyle Heights to Venice in the City of LA (and Temple City, where residents want to block permanent supportive units on nearby County land), some residents are fighting badly needed homes that can help get our neighbors off of the streets. We need to ensure that local opposition to supportive housing doesn’t snatch defeat from victory.

It is too easy to stall, shrink and stop new housing

While we dodged Measure S’s ban on developments that need planning changes, many individual market rate and mixed-income housing developments in LA are still being slowed, shrunk or stopped. Abundant Housing LA is following and supporting several projects where local opposition is leading to delays or to proposed developments being reduced in size.    This cuts the number of new homes and sometimes completely eliminates affordable units sought under density bonuses.

Community and specific plans are aiming too low

One good thing that came out of Measure S was a commitment by city leaders to speed up updates of old community plans. The City of LA is also working on transit neighborhood plans.  Updated plans can potentially help expand the number and diversity of homes in LA. Plan updates can increase the number of new homes that can be built by “up-zoning” in the right places. More modern zoning with reduced parking and more realistic dimensional and design standards can also mean that more new developments can proceed without needing to seek variances, which slow down projects and can open them up to more lawsuits and political fights. As specific plans, transit plans can “pre-clear” developments in the area through the overall plan Environmental Impact Review- which means that individual projects won’t have to go though a lengthy environmental review.

Unfortunately, most plans that the city is currently updating or creating are aiming for too little new housing to make a significant dent in our housing shortage.  Most community plans in the process of being updated provide just enough new space for anticipated population growth, but do little to address past under-building and LA’s existing housing crisis. There are also moves to continue piecemeal down-zoning of LA in places like Silverlake and Echo Park.

One way you can help ensure that plans make space for more homes is to attend our May 25 general meeting, focused on the the Downtown LA plan updates.  Los Angeles is not the only local city being too cautious in their planning. Our friends at Santa Monica Next are encouraging Santa Monica to allow more in this draft downtown plan.

Policies are adding costs to building homes

California Governor Jerry Brown didn’t include an increase in funding for affordable housing in his 2017 budget because he wanted to first make sure that lawmakers would “cut the red tape, cut the delays, cut whatever expenses we can” that act as obstacles to new homes, especially below market rate homes.
Abundant Housing LA supports more funding and removing barriers. Locally, we are happy that the City of LA is seeking to raise more money for its affordable housing trust fund, but are concerned that the revenue source would be a $12/sf “linkage fee” on most new homes (and $5/sf fee on new commercial property). It is unclear what impact this fee will have on construction,. It exempts multi-family units of 2 to 5 units, but we worry that the added cost will hurt the rest of the small and medium size residential market.

We think it is bad policy to load the costs of new affordable housing onto the tiny fraction of properties where new homes are being constructed rather than onto society as a whole. We have encouraged the city to consider raising funds in ways that don’t add costs to home-building, such as a parcel tax.

The housing crisis won’t fix itself

We don’t want to overemphasize these warning signs. We also see some positive trends including numerous state bills to address housing issues, legalization of ADUs in more places, a wider embrace of the YIMBY label, upcoming plan updates, etc. It is clear, however, that the housing crisis won’t fix itself. We haven’t yet turned the corner to becoming a city and region that fully welcome more homes.

In a follow-up post we will try to generalize these examples to identify what one could call the main “structural obstacles” to a future with enough homes for all Angelenos. And, of course, we will continue to provide opportunities for members and allies to keep supporting more homes of all types as well as better rules.


Los Angeles Housing Development Update, 1Q 2017

Are you a member of Abundant Housing LA yet? Join our mailing list for housing- and affordability-related news and weekly action alerts that help increase the diversity of housing choices available to Angelenos.


SFH1

Welcome to the third installment of Abundant Housing LA’s Quarterly Development Update™!

This is where we 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? How many of our new homes are single-family, large apartment/condo buildings, great quality wood products from Reclaimed Wood Paneling which would make the houses much more likeable, 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 time we’re looking at numbers through March 1st, 2017, the latest full quarter for which data is available. First up is a snapshot of overall permitting activity through the first 3 months of the year.

LA_housing_permits_2013-1Q2017

(Note: We are not including a projection for the rest of the year, as we did for 3Q 2016, because we believe a single quarter is too little information to guess at permitting activity for the coming 9 months.)

The data for the first quarter doesn’t look great, to be honest. It can be hard to make out given the scale of the 2017 bar relative to those for the prior years, but we’ve been outpacing previous years’ single-family home permitting and have fallen behind on almost every other development size. This becomes more clear when you look at the numbers themselves, below.

LA_UnitCount_1Q2017

Here it’s easier to see that we’ve already permitted more than 1/3 of 2016’s single-unit buildings in the first quarter of the year, and are on pace for almost 3,000 such homes by the end of the year. Most of those are probably tear-downs and rebuilds, so they’re unlikely to be adding much of anything to net housing in the city. Meanwhile we’ve permitted less than 25% of the previous year’s units for 2-4 unit, 5-19 unit, and 50+ unit buildings. We’re roughly on pace for the same amount of units in 20-49 unit buildings. Our per-month permitting through March is short of both 2016 and 2015, though again, it’s still a bit too early to assume that this trend will hold true for the remainder of the year. It could go up, and of course it could also go down.

Next we break down the units per building, looking specifically at what share of total permits are for projects with at least 50 units.

HousingPermits_large_projects_1q2017

Thus far we’ve seen a smaller overall share of new homes in buildings with 50 or more units (right around 55%) compared to previous years; this isn’t too surprising given how many single-family developments were permitted. Unlike earlier years, almost all of the permits have been for the largest class of structures: those with 200+ units.

Last, and as always, we look at how we’re progressing toward the Mayor’s goal of 100,000 new homes by 2021.

LA_housing_goal_1Q2017

Short answer: not bad! Long answer: We’ve still got 4 years to go, a recession likely within that time frame, and an acknowledgement at all levels of government that 100,000 units isn’t going to cut it if we’re really serious about solving our affordability crisis (which means creating enough market-rate and affordable units to house all Angelenos). And permits are not the same as construction, so we need to make sure that these projects actually get built in a timely manner.

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.


Valuing homes (not just in dollars)

LA apartments
In a recent report on why too few homes are being built in California, the State Legislative Analyst’s Office concluded that “real improvement can come only with a major shift in how communities and their residents think about and value new housing.”

As a YIMBY organization, Abundant Housing LA focuses on projects and policies to increase housing supply, reduce costs, and expand choices.  But taking the the LAO’s challenge to heart: how can we get residents and decision makers to value new homes?

Part of the problem may be our language. We frequently speak and write of “units” and “housing” –  but by this we mean homes. And by homes we mean places for people. Starting with people and their needs and stories and aspirations, whether in featuring individual Angelenos or speaking about “neighbors” as this humorous anti-NIMBY campaign does, can help personalize housing politics and policy.

Beyond language and tone, we were formed to address a housing crisis, so we naturally tend to focus on problems.  Housing shortages, high rents, homelessness, evictions, people leaving the region, opponents and obstruction of new housing, bad rules etc. all vie for our attention.  These are all issues worth explaining and addressing, but they are negatives. They work by generating concern and outrage to inspire improvement and push-back.

Problem-solving has its place, but how can we also promote positive reasons to value homes? Forget about new or old, attached or detached, big or small for a minute. What is the value of a home, or rather, the multiple values (and not just in dollars?)

A home is, at its most basic, shelter– a place to sleep, providing protection from the elements.

A home is also a dwelling – where we live, a place to organize our private lives, to spend time and to make memories.

A home is self-expression– a source of meaning and identity and control over one’s surroundings. Architectural styles, neighborhoods, and interior styles allow residents to affirm and vary their individual and shared identities and ways of living. Architectural critic Charles Jencks, celebrating what he termed LA’s ‘daydream houses,’ argued that even homes combining snobbery, kitsch and shoddy materials have an ‘immediate, sensual quality’ that make you look and, “however, reluctantly, smile.” Planner and artist James Rojas has studied how Latin American immigrants have altered suburban homes in LA to imbue them with aspects of their places of origin: taller front fences at which to stand and talk with neighbors, paved front yards that, along with front porches, act like interior courtyards, shrines, etc.

A home is also an investment– whether we own or rent, the single thing that we probably spend the most money on. Economists would say a home has exchange value. As a group that wants to reduce housing costs, it is tricky to view a home as simultaneously being affordable and a source of savings or wealth, but we have to keep in mind the attraction of homes as property.

A home is, or can be, an economic tool – more that just a passive investment. It can be the location for a home business, collateral for a loan, rooms to sublet. In her book My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working-Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920-1965, historian Becky Nicolaides shows how residential property in the city of South Gate in the 1920s was “highly valued for its function as a site of local production” – especially gardening and raising animals. In contemporary Los Angeles, homes are more likely to be places to store occupational equipment, offices for freelancers, places to rent long or short term, but the goals are the same: survival in tough times and wealth-building in good times.

A home is space in the city – a place and way for people to stay in or move to Los Angeles. If we want to be a welcoming, diverse place, we need more homes to create more space. The flip side of a home as individualized expression is the notion of the home as a grid of possibilities and succession. A space, that as Aaron Betsky writes of the dingbat – “allows for any kind of person to inhabit it without feeling out of place.”

There are probably many other reasons to value homes. Whichever appeal most to you, we hope that valuing homes can help lead to a city, region and state with enough room (and homes) for all.

 



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!