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

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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, 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.


(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.


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.


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.


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.


Rescinding Endorsement for LA City Council District 1 candidate Joe Bray-Ali

This week, it came to light that LA City Council District 1 candidate Joe Bray-Ali has been an active participant in shockingly racist and transphobic discussion boards on the darker corners of the internet. Based on these revelations, Abundant Housing LA has decided to rescind our endorsement of Bray-Ali in the CD 1 race.

One of Abundant Housing LA’s foundational principles is a commitment to supporting fair housing, meaning that everybody has the right to equal access to housing, regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. Every community in LA deserves to know that their elected officials will stand up and defend their housing rights. In light of Bray-Ali’s comments in these internet forums, we do not feel that we, or everyone in LA, can put that confidence in him.

In the primary election, we endorsed both Bray-Ali and incumbent Councilmember Gil Cedillo as candidates who would work to help solve LA’s housing shortage and housing crisis. Our endorsement of Councilmember Cedillo stands. We look forward to continuing to work with him, the rest of city council, as well as our community partners to address LA’s housing challenges, and to make LA an inclusive city with housing 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!

Los Angeles Housing Development Update, 4Q 2016

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Welcome to the second installment of Abundant Housing LA’s new 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 apartments/condos, or “missing middle” housing? And how are we doing on Mayor Garcetti’s goal of building 100,000 new homes in 8 years?

This time we’re looking at numbers through December 31st, 2016, the latest full quarter for which data is available. First up is a snapshot of overall permitting activity through the end of last year.


Permitting for new units climbed each year from 2013 to 2015, but dipped a bit in 2016. That’s really unfortunate, given our crushing housing shortage. The good news is that we permitted more small and midsize multifamily homes (2-t0-4 units, 5-to-19, and 20-to-49), which often include fewer amenities and have better odds of filtering down to become more affordable over time. The bad news is that we built more single-family homes—many of them likely mansionizations—and we lost quite a bit of production from larger, 50+ unit buildings compared to the prior year.

Below is a table showing the chart’s underlying data.


Next we break down what those 50+ unit buildings actually look like. Are they mostly apartments and condos with less than 100 homes, larger structures with 200+ units, or somewhere in between?

Similar to the earlier data, it looks like buildings on the smaller end of the spectrum (within this subset) saw some of the most significant growth: The number of homes permitted in 50-to-99 unit buildings grew from 8.8 to 13.5 percent of the total; meanwhile, housing permits fell for projects with 100-to-199 units and those with 200+ units.

Last, we take a look at progress on the mayor’s 100,000 unit goal.


Things are looking good at 42 months into the 8-year horizon, with permits running somewhat ahead of the benchmark.

As we mentioned in our first development update, though, permits are not the same as completed units: It’s possible that some of the units permitted during this period will be delayed, and plans may be scrapped for some projects, leaving permitted homes indefinitely unbuilt. But it’s better to be ahead of the curve than behind it.

Then there’s the question of whether 100,000 units (12,500 per year) is even an adequate goal. We at Abundant Housing contend that it is not. Our plummeting rental vacancy rate, skyrocketing prices, overcrowding, and worsening homelessness crisis are all evidence that we’re failing to meet the demand for homes in Los Angeles. And given that most household formation in our city is coming from native-born children growing up and moving into their own homes, we can’t blame this on outsiders. It’s our problem to solve.

So what should our goal be? Mayoral candidate Mitchell Schwartz had an extremely aggressive plan—350,000 new homes over a 10-year period, with 500,000 more rehabbed or preserved over 15 years—that we wish had received more coverage during the campaign season. If the imminent threat of Measure S hadn’t been demanding everyone’s attention over the past 6 months (including our own), it very well may have received the attention it deserved. Schwartz’s plan was for 35,000 new homes per year, more than double the 16,700 units that were permitted in 2015. Is this a realistic goal? Maybe, maybe not. It’s more than we’ve built in any decade in LA’s history, but it’s also closer to the historical average than the housing numbers we’ve seen since 1990.

Either way, it’s a conversation we should be having: If 12,500 homes per year isn’t enough (it isn’t), what is? If 35,000/year became our new goal, what city rules and processes would need to change in order to achieve it? What would our city look like ten years hence? And how could we plan for those new homes in a way that protected renters and promoted greater access, health, safety, and opportunity for all of LA’s residents? With our community plans set to be updated on a regular six-year cycle, we’ll be pushing the city to ask (and answer) exactly these types of questions. We hope you’ll join us!

Every Organization You Trust Is Voting No On Measure S


Los Angeles voters will be deciding on the fate of Measure S on March 7th, but many people are still unclear on what it seeks to do, or what it would actually achieve.

The rhetoric on each side is pretty extreme. According to the Yes campaign, Measure S will “save our neighborhoods” and create a city in which rents are affordable, evictions are stopped, and homelessness is ended. The No campaign describes the initiative in apocalyptic terms, describing it as a “housing ban” that would make the housing crisis even worse.

Who to believe? Here at Abundant Housing LA we’ve written plenty about our own views on Measure S. But don’t take our word for it. You should just listen to the experts.


– If you’re concerned about how the construction of affordable housing is affected by Measure S, we recommend getting a hold of the smart, dedicated people at the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing, who represent most of the affordable housing developers in LA and are voting No on Measure S.

– If reducing homelessness is one of your top priorities, lend an ear to some of the folks that have served our homeless neighbors for decades, including the United Way, Covenant House of CaliforniaSkid Row Housing TrustInner City Law Center, the Downtown Women’s Center, or the Los Angeles Mission, who are voting No on Measure S.


– If evictions, gentrification, and tenant’s rights are your issue, have a chat with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)Alliance for Community TransitCoalition for Economic Survival, SAJEEast LA Community CorporationSoutheast Asian Community AllianceTRUST South LA, or Community Health Councils, who are all voting No.

– If you’re unsure about how Measure S will impact the environment, you might want to defer to the League of Conservation VotersNational Resources Defense Council, or Climate Resolve, who all recommend that you vote No.

– If living wage, stable jobs are your thing, your best bet is probably unions like the AFL-CIOSEIUIBEW, or UNITE HERE, whose members are voting No and want you to do the same.

– If you’re worried about how Measure S will affect the economy, the Chamber of Commerce usually knows their stuff, and if funding for essential government services is important to you, you might want to follow the lead of the LA Police Protective League and the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City—all of them are voting No.


– If you’re a die-hard partisan, you could always just do what your political party tells you: Mayor Garcetti, along with both the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Los Angeles County are recommending a No vote on Measure S.

– And if you’re into the dispassionate, academic style, there are a couple dozen UCLA and USC professors, with expertise ranging from Urban Planning to African-American studies to Public Health, who would all like to see you vote No in March.

Meanwhile, Measure S was written and is fully financially backed by just one individual: Michael Weinstein, the controversial CEO of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, who began this fight as a way to stop a residential tower from being built across the street from his 21st-floor office in Hollywood. A man with a history of wrong-headed crusades and with no record of experience or expertise in issues of city planning, homelessness, or affordable housing. But he’s got a great slogan (“Save Our Neighborhoods!”), so that’s something.


You can explore the full No on Measure S coalition here, and we invite you to compare it against the Yes on S endorsements, here. When you’re finished browsing each, please fill out your vote-by-mail ballot and send it in, or commit to showing up at the polls to vote No on Measure S.

Who Should You Trust on Measure S? Look to the Endorsements.

The Measure S campaign and its financial backer, Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have made a wide range of claims about how their March 7th initiative will “Save Our Neighborhoods.”

People like me have written at length about how Measure S would worsen the affordability landscape in LA, driving up homelessness and increasing displacement in existing neighborhoods. The LA Times Editorial Board concurs.

Who to trust, given such conflicting claims? Frankly, this is one of those rare times where you really don’t even need to listen to the arguments: just look at who’s endorsed each side.

On the “No” side you’ll find just about every local organization dedicated to affordable housing, homelessness, environmental protection, economic development, worker’s rights, and democratic values. On the “Yes” side, you’ll find… well, see for yourself: Continue Reading

2016 Was a Good Year For Abundant Housing in LA


Happy 2017 from Abundant Housing LA!

Abundant Housing is a volunteer organization that supports more affordable and market-rate housing in the LA region in order to reduce rents for residents of all backgrounds, ages, and income levels. Thanks to everyone who made this a banner year—as an all-volunteer organization, we’re only as good as the work we collectively do!

Growing and evolving

We started the year with just five original members. We end the year with 375. On the one hand, that’s a good thing, because everybody needs more friends, and collectively we’re starting to get some real political power. On the other hand, it shows that high rents and the housing crisis are continuing to cause real problems, and people across LA are looking for solutions.

Last summer brought the first wave of new volunteers, who brought new energy and organized the first Abundant Housing LA meetings that were open to the public, allowing people interested in the group to learn more, socialize, and get involved. As we started to grow, it was time to get organized, so we officially formed the steering committee in October. You can learn more about the steering committee here—please reach out anytime, we’re always looking for good ideas and good people who want to lend a hand to help get things done! Continue Reading

Don’t Call It a Boom: Despite Uptick, LA Still Adding New Housing At a Snail’s Pace

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In mid-December we wrote that Los Angeles is well on its way to achieving Mayor Garcetti’s goal of building 100,000 new homes between 2013 and 2021. With development visibly picking up in neighborhoods throughout the city, we’ve been hearing from the media that LA is in the midst of a boom in housing development. (See here, here, here, or here.)

But is it, really?

We’ve permitted quite a few homes in a short period of time, so in that sense, yes, we’re booming. But permitted housing is not the same as built housing, and many entitled units don’t end up being built for years (or decades). And 3 or 4 years of rapid housing development won’t make up for 30+ years of underproduction, dating back to the late 80s and the passage of destructive anti-growth measures like Proposition U. Continue Reading