California’s High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences

California’s High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences via Legislative Analyst’s Office

“Living in decent, affordable, and reasonably located housing is vitally important to every Californian. Unfortunately, housing in California is extremely expensive and, as a result, many households are forced to make serious trade-offs in order to live here. While many factors have a role in driving California’s high housing costs, the most important is the significant shortage of housing in the state’s highly coveted coastal communities. We advise the Legislature to address this housing shortfall by changing policies to facilitate significantly more private home and apartment building in California’s coastal urban communities.”

 


How Building Expensive New Housing Actually Helps Create More Affordable Cities

How Building Expensive New Housing Actually Helps Create More Affordable Cities via Gizmodo

“In tight markets, poor and middle­-class households are forced to compete with one another for scarce homes. So new market-rate housing eases that competition, even if the poor are not the ones living in it. Over time, new housing also filters down to the more affordable supply, because housing becomes less desirable as it ages. That means the luxury housing being built today will contribute to the middle-class supply 30 years from now; it means today’s middle-class housing was luxury housing 30 years ago.”


LUVE: What we don’t need now

LUVE: What we don’t need now via The Healthy City Local

 

“When presented last month with Residocracy’s “Land Use Voter Empowerment” initiative (LUVE), the council requested a Section 9212 report, which it received from city staff last week. The council will consider the report at its meeting tomorrow night.

The 65-page report is negative about LUVE, which would, in general but with some exceptions, require voter approval of new construction taller than 32 feet. The report finds not only that LUVE would have many negative unintended consequences, such as making post-earthquake reconstruction problematic, but also that LUVE would have a negative impact on its ostensible intended consequences, such as preventing worsening traffic congestion and gentrification.”


No LUVE in Santa Monica: The Problem with Real Estate Referenda

No LUVE in Santa Monica: The Problem with Real Estate Referenda via Huffington Post

“The use of referenda is especially inappropriate in this case given the complexity of zoning issues and urban planning. Research into direct democracy from Switzerland suggests that voters with less education are more likely to reject complex propositions or not vote at all; it is difficult for most voters to calculate the benefits and costs to them of complex propositions like general plans, specific plans and development proposals. In the case of LUVE, is the average voter expected to review construction plans and read through thousands of pages of CEQA documents in order to come to an informed decision?”


Action Alert! Support Governor Brown’s Housing Bill

As a trailer bill to the proposed budget, Governor Brown has proposed a bill that would make it significantly easier to build housing projects that include units dedicated to low-income residents. Specifically, the bill would grant approvals by right to projects in transit priority areas that include 10% low-income units or 5% very low-income units, and to projects outside transit priority areas that include 20% units reserved for households making less than 80% of the area’s median income. The LA Times has a good run down of specifics.

This means that projects that comply with the zoning would be approved without being subject to detailed reviews and arbitrary NIMBY lawsuits that waste time and money, and prevent new housing from being built. We agree with the state Legislative Analyst’s Office that the bill doesn’t go far enough, but it is a great start and it is very encouraging to see the governor take up this issue.

Now, the most important thing to do is show your support for more housing! Call your state representatives, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and Senate President Kevin de León, and tell them to support the Governor Brown’s affordable housing bill, Budget Trailer Bill 707.

Find your local rep: http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon: (916) 319-2063 or (562) 529-3250

Senate President Kevin de León: (916) 651-4024 or (213) 483-9300

You can also send a postcard to all your reps quickly and easily through this site. Do it now!


In Search of Solutions to Our Housing Affordability Crisis

Via Santa Monica Forward

Last week, Santa Monica’s Housing Commission published several draft reports on our city’s housing affordability crisis, laying out the scope of the problem and potential solutions.

Santa Monica Forward would like to reiterate its strong support for the production and preservation of affordable housing in our city. We would also like to thank the Commission for its efforts in researching, defining, and offering some solutions for Santa Monica’s dire housing affordability crisis.

While we appreciate the efforts on the part of the Commission to attempt to lay out a strategy for addressing our current housing crisis, we do believe the draft reports are lacking. Specifically, we should not downplay the vital role the city’s Affordable Housing Production Program has played in creating affordable homes in Santa Monica, and, we must look at the broader context and causes of the current crisis.

In the past year, President Obama has sought advice on how the United States, one of most inequitable advanced economies in the world, can once again be a place of opportunity for all.

A recent white paper by Jason Furman, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, a group selected by President Obama to analyze and interpret economic developments and advise him on issues of national economic importance, illustrated that throughout the country, local no-growth housing policies have been widening the gap between rich and poor by increasingly making it harder for middle- and low-income workers to access homes near quality jobs.

Furman’s findings were echoed by New York Times columnist and distinguished economist Paul Krugman recently. And, last year, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan State office based in Sacramento that provides fiscal and policy advice to state lawmakers, published a report that outlined, in great detail, the negative impact of decades of minimal-growth housing policies on our state’s coastal cities.

We continue to ignore the mounting body of evidence that restrictive zoning is exacerbating our housing affordability crisis at our own peril and — perhaps more importantly — the peril of future generations that will inherit a Santa Monica even more inaccessible than it is today, unless we make substantive changes to our housing policies.

Read the rest at Santa Monica Forward


Project Spotlight – 8820 Sepulveda Eastway

The process for getting new housing approved can be complex, and there are many different types of housing that we can build, from large apartment buildings all the way down to single accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Occasionally, we’ll use this space to spotlight projects that we have supported, look at the process and approvals the project needs, and explain why we think it’s important for people to voice their support.

What is it? A 136-unit, 5-story apartment building. This is on the larger side for a housing development in LA. Outside of Downtown LA, residential construction almost always tops out around 5 or 6 stories. This is due to two factors. First, in most of the city, the zoning doesn’t allow for taller structures. Second, this is the maximum height permitted for wood frame structures by the building code due to concerns about fire safety. Since wood construction is cheaper than concrete and steel, it is often not economical to build taller structures that would require concrete and steel.

8820 Sepulveda Eastway rendering. Source: City of LA Planning case file.

8820 Sepulveda Eastway rendering. Source: City of LA Planning case file.

What discretionary approvals did this project need? A discretionary approval is one where a special permit or a change from zoning regulations is required for the project to be built. In many cases, the current zoning requirements are stricter than the existing buildings surrounding the site.

The only discretionary approval that this project required was a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), a government action that finds the project, as proposed, will not have a significant impact on the environment under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). While this is only a single action, CEQA provides an opportunity for opponents of new housing to slow down or stop construction by appealing the city’s decision.

Why should we support this project? Larger buildings add a significant amount of housing capacity with one project. Large buildings sometimes can offer more amenities, because the cost can be spread out over a greater number of units. Promoting a variety of building sizes and types – from ADUs up to large apartment buildings – helps create a diversity of housing types, increasing the diversity of people that can find housing in the area.

While this project only needed to clear CEQA, this can still be an issue if there is opposition to the project. The city’s decision can be appealed on subjective grounds, such as impacts to views. It is important for people who want to help solve the region’s housing crisis to speak up and register their support so that decision makers don’t only hear anti-housing voices.


Project Spotlight – 15340 W Lassen St, North Hills

The process for getting new housing approved can be complex, and there are many different types of housing that we can build, from large apartment buildings all the way down to single accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Occasionally, we’ll use this space to spotlight projects that we have supported, look at the process and approvals the project needs, and explain why we think it’s important for people to voice their support.

What is it? A proposed small lot subdivision of 15 houses. The small lot subdivision ordinance is a City of LA zoning ordinance that was created to make it easier to develop underused land in multi-family zoned areas, with the goals of encouraging infill development of fee-simple, attached ownership housing units. The ordinance does not increase the number of units permitted above what is allowed by the base zoning, but it relaxes requirements for setbacks, street frontage, and minimum lot sizes, and provides flexibility for configuration of parking.

Here’s the location of this project:

15340LassenSt

What discretionary approvals did this project need? A discretionary approval is one where a special permit or a change from zoning regulations is required for the project to be built. In many cases, the current zoning requirements are stricter than the existing buildings surrounding the site.

This project required a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), a government action that finds the project, as proposed, will not have a significant impact on the environment under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Most reasonable people would not consider a small urban infill development project to have an impact on the environment, but CEQA provides an opportunity for opponents of new housing to slow down or stop construction by appealing the city’s decision.

This project also requested a zone change from RD2-1 to RD1.5-1. This reduced the lot area per house from 2,000 square feet to 1,500 square feet, allowing for an increase in the number of houses to be constructed. Some of the properties abutting the project were already zoned for this density or more, and the zone change will allow for a beneficial increase in housing. A lack of land zoned for more housing is one of the biggest challenges to the construction of abundant housing in SoCal.

Why should we support this project? The small lot subdivision ordinance has helped create over 2,000 units of housing. In a few cases, projects have replaced an equal number of apartments with small lot houses, and we do not support that type of development. However, in this case, the project will be replacing a single house, not apartments.

Predictably, anti-housing forces have started to attack the small lot subdivision ordinance as allowing too much density, despite the fact that the ordinance does nothing to increase the number of units permitted on a lot. The small lot ordinance should be improved to further encourage the production of housing and discourage the destruction of existing apartments. This project represents the small lot subdivision at its best, and the city should try to encourage more like it.


Project Spotlight – 2205 S Ocean Ave, Venice

The process for getting new housing approved can be complex, and there are many different types of housing that we can build, from large apartment buildings all the way down to single accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Occasionally, we’ll use this space to spotlight projects that we have supported, look at the process and approvals the project needs, and explain why we think it’s important for people to voice their support.

What is it? A proposed accessory dwelling unit (ADU), commonly known as a granny flat, in-law apartment, or garage apartment. These units are typically small apartments, located on the same lot as a larger single-family house, though sometimes they are on the same lot as a separate small apartment building.

What discretionary approvals did this project need? A discretionary approval is one where a special permit or a change from zoning regulations is required for the project to be built. In many cases, the current zoning requirements are stricter than the existing buildings surrounding the site. Because of its location in the “Coastal Zone”, this project required a Coastal Development Permit. Because of the arrangement of the site, this project required a zoning adjustment to allow the building setbacks to be less than required by the zoning – 0’ in instead of 5’ at the back, and 2’-4” instead of 3’ on the side.

While adjustments like these are minor by any reasonable standard, they give opponents of new housing a way to slow down or stop construction, because they can appeal the city’s discretionary actions. It is common for Coastal Development Permits and minor adjustments to be appealed.

Why should we support this project? ADUs are some of the most affordable housing units that can be produced. This small unit – 368 SF – increases the diversity of the housing stock, and will likely be affordable to someone who could not afford a larger apartment, such as a student, low-income worker, or elderly person. There are over 1.7 million single-family homes in LA County; even if ADUs were constructed at only 10%, this would be a huge contribution to affordable housing supply. The wider the range of housing types that we build, the more quickly we can address our housing shortage, and the more diverse people we can welcome into the city.


Good Housing Projects in LA Need Support!

When supporters of sustainable, equitable growth don’t make their voices heard, Los Angeles loses opportunities to fight back against skyrocketing rents and displacement. City planners are much more likely to hear from people who — for whatever reason — are against particular projects, and if those projects need special permission for approval, that could mean the difference between new housing getting built or a missed opportunity.

Abundant Housing LA knows that good projects need support. Since we started on our mission to support abundant housing in Los Angeles in July, we’ve sent comment letters to LA City Planners in support of more than 1,500 new units, from single accessory dwelling units (garage apartments) to large apartment buildings replacing parking lots. We’ve also opposed a project that proposes to demolish a multi-family building and replace it with a megamansion, resulting in a net loss of homes and displacement.

In some communities, any project is controversial. It is in many of those communities where new housing is needed most. Decades of anti-growth activism on the Westside have made it impossible for many of the people who work there to nearby. Every missed opportunity for smart, equitable housing growth further causes rents to rise, severely circumscribing sustainable housing options for people of all ages.

It isn’t easy to know when certain projects need approvals, but as we grow our grassroots efforts, we will work to help people understand how to navigate the city’s sometimes confusing public input process and help them make their voices heard.

As our housing shortage worsens almost daily, new voices for abundant housing are needed now more than ever.

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