Homelessness and Children in the United States

Image of Rachelle Levitt, Director of PD&R's Research Utilization Division.

Rachelle Levitt, Director of PD&R’s Research Utilization Division.

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HUD User

Recently, I learned that the television program Sesame Street is exploring homelessness and its effect on children. The show is reintroducing Lily, a 7-year-old who first joined the cast in 2011 as a character whose family didn’t consistently have enough food to eat. In a story arc that will be presented on YouTube, Lily’s family will come to Sesame Street to stay with friends after losing their apartment.

In a press release highlighting the importance of this issue, Sherrie Westin, president of global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, said, “We know children experiencing homelessness are often caught up in a devastating cycle of trauma — the lack of affordable housing, poverty, domestic violence, or other trauma that caused them to lose their home, the trauma of actually losing their home, and the daily trauma of the uncertainty and insecurity of being homeless.

HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Reports (AHARs) are an important tool for understanding homelessness in the United States. The report presents the results of the annual Point-in-Time Count, which tracks homelessness by providing a snapshot of those experiencing homelessness on one night during the last 10 days of January. According to the report, on that night in January 2018, HUD counted more than 111,000 homeless children, including 98,000 children served in programs for sheltering homeless families.

Another HUD report, Family Options Study: 3-Year Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families, presents evidence highlighting the positive role that HUD housing assistance can have on the well-being of homeless families and children. Families participating in the Family Options Study were randomly assigned into groups following a stay of at least 7 days in an emergency shelter. Families in the group that received a permanent housing subsidy, often a Housing Choice Voucher, were less likely to be in a shelter in the 7-37 month period following assignment, the number of school absences for their children was lower after 20 months, and the number of behavior problems was lower 37 months after assignment than families that did not receive priority housing assistance.

HUD and other federal agencies also work with state and local partners on various programs to end homelessness that provide support to children and families. On July 13, 2018, HUD announced $43 million in grant funding through the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program for 11 communities to use to end youth homelessness. HUD sought the input of young people experiencing homelessness when crafting every step of the program, from designing the demonstration to the actual application review process.

“Young people who are victims of abuse, family conflict, or aging out of foster care are especially vulnerable to homelessness,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a press release announcing the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program. “We’re working with our local partners to support innovative new approaches to help young people find stable housing, break the cycle of homelessness and lead them on a path to self-sufficiency.”

Promisingly, the 2018 AHAR report notes that nationally, the number of homeless people in families with children counted that night declined by 2 percent, or 3,998 people, compared with the 2017 Point-in-Time count, and the number of homeless family households also declined by 2 percent, or 1,544 households. The count also found that more than half of all homeless people in families with children were in concentrated in four states, with nearly 30 percent of all people in families with children experiencing homelessness in New York alone. Between 2017 and 2018, 12 states saw increases in the number of people in families with children experiencing homelessness. The largest increases were in Massachusetts and Connecticut, each of which had more than 500 additional people in families experiencing homelessness in 2018 than in 2017.

Families with children and youth experiencing homelessness can continue to seek permanent and temporary assistance from HUD-funded programs. According to Sesame Workshop, the creators of Sesame Street hope that the storyline featuring Lily will “offer help and hope to the growing number of young children across the United States who are experiencing homelessness,” as well as “help mitigate the impact of the trauma and stigma that result from homelessness.” Although many HUD programs are working to meet the physical housing needs of children experiencing homelessness, I find it helpful that programs such as Sesame Street are raising public awareness of the issue.



New Mission Page

Check out our new page describing the Mission and the Theory of Change of Abundant Housing LA!


Los Angeles has a crippling housing crisis.  The lack of affordability and the number of unhoused people sleeping in the streets every night (60,000 people across Los Angeles County) are a direct result of the fact that there are simply not enough homes in Los Angeles.  Rising rents bankrupt families, forcing them out of their homes. Housing is scarce near major job centers, pushing people into their cars, creating unbearable traffic and worsening climate change. The solution seems simple: build more homes all across Los Angeles. But the zoning laws in Los Angeles and much of California have restricted home building. Abundant Housing LA is a group of over 1,500 pro-housing Angelenos who passionately care about these interconnected issues. Our solution is to educate and advocate for 
homes for everyone.

Read more here!


Abundant Housing LA partners with CA YIMBY

Los Angeles Housing Advocacy Organization Leads Regional Efforts on Pro-Housing Education

Abundant Housing LA (AHLA) and California YIMBY have a new partnership to accelerate solutions to the housing crisis in Los Angeles County and throughout the state.

Together, we will work towards our shared goals of affordability, inclusiveness, and access to opportunity for all Californians.

With its focus on education about the benefits of housing at the local and regional level, we will deepen California YIMBY’s reach in the state’s largest metropolitan area. At the same time, AHLA will coordinate with California YIMBY’s state-level advocacy operations.

And the first thing California YIMBY is working on is getting the More HOMES Bill Act past the Senate Housing Committee.

We’ve always been focused on educating our members about housing on the local, regional, and state level. This new partnership couldn’t come at a better time – we’re scaling up our local work just as California YIMBY is focused on increasing impact with legislators in Sacramento. We’re excited by the new potential.

AHLA is continuing to build partnerships with groups across the region to educate the public, neighborhood councils, and our representatives about the necessity of more housing production.


Welcoming our new Managing Director, Leonora Camner

By Brent Gaisford

I’m so excited to announce that Leonora Camner is Abundant Housing LA’s Managing Director! We’re getting together to celebrate on the 28th, I hope everyone can make it. I couldn’t be prouder of all of us, and of her.

First, the reasons we all have to be proud.

This time two years ago we were a small group of people working to make LA a more affordable place to live. Now we’re a real organization, with funding and full-time leadership to help us do even more. We won an unbelievable competitive grant from LA 2050, we partnered and secured support from the biggest and most well-funded pro-housing group in the country (California YIMBY), and have begun to secure our own future with a member-funding model (if you missed it last week there is still time to join as a founding member).

More importantly than getting bigger – what we’re doing is working. The projects we support get built. After we talk to people they tend to understand the crisis and how to fix it. We’ve got thirty years of bad decisions to undo, but things are definitely getting better. It’s happening far too slowly, there’s no doubt about that. But every day there are more and more reasons to be optimistic, and we’ve got a lot to do with that.

I also couldn’t be prouder of Leonora.

She started volunteering with Abundant Housing more than two years ago as our Online Director. Just like the rest of us, she didn’t really know how to do the job. But she cared so much about the cause, and she was ready to take on something new. Within a few months, our weekly email was the most reliable and best thing coming out of Abundant Housing. That was just the first time – she’s done it again and again, taking on something new, figuring out how to do it, and getting it done. She’s one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever met, and even more importantly she’s always excited to learn.

Leonora also cares incredibly deeply about the real, human impact of the housing crisis here in LA. She worked for the Eviction Defense Network last year, where she went to court every day to represent tenants who were facing eviction. It’s an incredibly hard job. One with far more heartbreak than triumph, but she did it anyway.

Taken all together, that’s why I feel sure that we’re in good hands going forward.

Organizationally, a couple of changes are happening. Leonora will be leading the organization day to day, building greater support for the growing network of AHLA volunteers. Her work will create even more space for people to take on leadership roles in their communities and across LA County in support of housing. I’m also stepping down from my position as Director. Instead I’m taking on the job of Board Chair, and working primarily on board recruitment and fundraising. If you’d like to help out with either of those, please holler, I surely could use it.

We had nearly two hundred people apply for this job. I think that interest is a real testament to the work we’ve all done and the organization we’ve built. I also think we found the best person for the job, and that’s a real testament to her. Welcome Leonora, we can’t wait to see where you take us!

Let’s welcome her in style on the evening of the 28th at Angel City – details here.


Do We Really Need All These Cars?

By Lindsay Sturman

Housing is more and more expensive, traffic is getting worse, and we have 12 years to save the planet. But there’s one solution that no one has tried that addresses all three: build a car-free neighborhood….and it comes for the low, low price of free.    

In the run-up to The Grove’s grand opening there was a raging debate over whether Los Angeles needed “another shopping mall,” with naysayers absolutely sure it would fail. Then it opened, and…boom! Families, teenagers, couples — people flocked there, and they stayed. They may have come for the Apple Store, but they stayed because there was something you couldn’t get anywhere else: a place you can walk and explore thanks to the fact there are no cars. Which meant you could let your kids run around. You could stroll and window shop – with no noise, no pollution, no fear of death. It was instantly beloved, a huge success, and a revelation. But sadly, it didn’t start a “car-free” revolution.

Sixteen years later, maybe we can.

It is self-evident that getting people out of cars is the key to addressing traffic and climate change. It can also have a huge impact on housing affordability. We all agree we want people out of cars, but we make it inconvenient, expensive, and dangerous to live without a car (to the point where drivers and elected officials are hostileto people trying to get out of their cars—look at the backlash against bike paths and scooters). We can flip the paradigm and diffuse the opposition by zoning an entire neighborhood to be car-free.

Gamla Stan, Södermalm, Stockholm, Sweden  Attribution: Aaron Zhu

Put simply, designate an area of the city to be a European-style neighborhood with no cars allowed — just sidewalks and bike paths — all within walking or biking distance to a Metro stop. We know these neighborhoods work because they exist all over the world. More than that, they are celebrated tourist destinations–think Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or Venice, Italy. People actually payto spend time in car-free places.  

Cities around the world are inching towards fewer cars or outright banning cars — London, Oslo, Zurich and Paris are experimenting with car-free city centers – and finding that citizens don’t miss the traffic, noise, accidents, and pollution. It’s also good for business; business goes up when bike lanes and pedestrian plazas replace cars zooming by – because who wants to window shop along a freeway? And for those who wantan urban existence, car-free neighborhoods offer an amazing quality of life.

Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash

The Plan for a Car-Free Neighborhood

Here’s how it could work in LA. Let’s start with an underutilized area of the city that is a candidate for redevelopment, and then change the footprint of the street to be car free— just sidewalks and bike paths (with room for emergency vehicles.) It can feel like the Venice Walk-Streets mixed with The Grove.

The new neighborhood must be located within walking or biking distance to public transportation, ideally a Metro stop.

After the city acquired the land it would be time to implement a new street design. Instead of the typical LA design of a wide street with parked cars and tons of wasted space, we’d go for narrow, walkable, and curving streets to create a sense of exploration and wonder.

Instead of this:   

How about this:

Photo by Raymond Tan on Unsplash

After the streets, it would be time to create lots. Every lot of the newly designed footprint would be pre-zoned for density and mixed-use: 4-7 stories of apartments above a ground floor of retail and businesses such as cafes, grocery stores, small businesses, and shops. Creating a dense street of stores and apartments means people can walk or bike to do the vast majority of their errands. It’s also what Jane Jacobs calls “sticky streets” – where people want to come, hang out, sit, stroll, and shop. This mix of businesses also provides local jobs which people can walk or bike to.

The neighborhood can be planned to include large and small parks, plazas, and a town square – places to gather and create community.

Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

12% of Angelenos do not own a car.  We know that over 60% of millennials and 40% of boomers say they want to live in a walkable neighborhood. But we don’t make it possible, despite the fact that it’s better for the rest of us – better for businesses and the economy, better for traffic and better for the environment.

Creating Affordable Housing

Dense, mixed-use, car-free zoning also offers an opportunity to create naturally affordable housing.This is for several reasons — land cost of a building is spread over multiple units (as opposed to single-family homes on a huge lot). Revenue from first floor businesses can offset rents. Builders also aren’t paying for expensive underground parking (which can add $200 in rent per unit, not including the expense of owning a car — average cost of about $700/month). And compact apartments have substantially lower construction costs per unit.

Having the city pre-zone apartments can substantially reduce risk. Zoning battles and CEQA lawsuits from neighbors and NIMBYs can add years to get a project through the system – and the carrying costs can add another 5-10% to a project’s total cost. In addition, the risk of failuremust also be factored in: if a project doesn’t ultimately get approved, the builder can be out hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars. Multi-million dollar risk means only big developers can take on these projects, and big developers only build luxury units. So by eliminating the zoning risk, a wide variety of builders can enter the market – many of whom are more community focused, bringing new ideas and more altruistic values to our housing crisis.

By creating a flood of new housing options we can also help renters across the city. The lack of housing has driven up rents, so conversely the creation of thousands of units can stop the rise in rents, and even push rents back down. As supply increases, renters have more options, and landlords have to compete for tenants. Seattle has had a building boom and seen rents not just flatten – but seen rents go down.

What About the Cost?

Done right, a new walkable neighborhood can be built at no cost to tax-payers. Cities can opt to have outside investors buy the land and develop it; or the city can buy it themselves, re-do the street design, and then sell the lots to small builders. The city could make a substantial profit, and use a portion of that funding to subsidize affordable units to create an even more mixed-income community.

More benefits of building car-free neighborhoods:

  • Walkable neighborhoods are good for you and can prevent obesity and lower rates of heart disease.
  • Walkable neighborhoods lower crime and make cities more democratic.
  • Walking and biking are fun and lower depression.
  • Walkable neighborhoods are more accessible and offer more freedom to kids, people who can’t drive, the disabled, and the elderly.
  • Walkable neighborhoods are better for businesses.
  • No car accidents – we can achieve Vision Zero right off the bat.
  • No traffic.
  • We can address climate change at no cost to tax-payers – moving people into car-free living will instantly take cars off the streets. And it does not require Federal legislation that conservatives will resist; and it can scale up locally, nationally and even internationally.
  • It’s cheaper for cities: According to Jeff Speck, author of Walkability City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places, when someone drives a car it costs the city $9.20 in services like policing and ambulances because of all the accidents and emergencies. When they walk, it costs the city a penny.
  • Done right, car-free neighborhoods can attract tourists and create jobs.

LA is a city of dreamers and doers. If we can find the political will to do a pilot, test it, and see if it works, we could start a revolution. Just think about it: if LA— the ultimate city of cars—can go car-free, anyone can.

 


Become a Founding Member of AHLA

Housing lovers / rent haters,

Two and a half years ago, when we launched Abundant Housing LA in the (now deceased) Pitfire Pizza in DTLA, we never could have imagined how much impact we would make so quickly. Thanks to the massive grassroots energy of our members, we have won major victories like defeating Measure S, passing Measures H and HHH, up-zoning the Expo Line TNP to allow  for more housing near transit, and fundamentally changed the conversation about housing affordability and scarcity in Los Angeles.

And we have done it all as a viral grassroots movement, with no staff and no budget. This organization has been member-driven from day one.
And now we are asking you, the members who make AHLA what it is, to help take our impact to the next level. 

We are up against some of the most powerful political forces in America. Michael Weinstein has used $20 million from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (that was supposed to be for HIV/AIDS care) to fight against new housing in just the last two years. NIMBYs have dominated local politics in LA and throughout California for two generations. There is a reason we are
millions of homes short of what we need – the system has been rigged against new housing by powerful entrenched interests for a very long time.
Times are changing now, in large part because of the work we are doing together. But we can’t take our game to the next level without more resources to do this work.

We have big plans for the next few years at AHLA. We recently incorporated as a 501(c)3 organization, and we are going to hire our first-ever staff member to help us continue to build this movement. We are going to build and support local chapters all over Los Angeles, and make sure that pro-housing voices have real power to make change.

Doing this requires money, and not just the few thousand dollars that a few of us have kicked in for our web tools and meetings so far. That’s why we are asking those of you who are passionate about our mission to become dues-paying members and help fuel the next chapter of our work.

Our goal is to launch this next phase of Abundant Housing with 200 dues-paying members in the next few months.

Can you join today and help us reach that goal?

We aren’t asking for big checks (although we’ll take them!) This is a grassroots movement, and we want your support at whatever level works for you. If you can do $10 or $20/month, that’s amazing. If you can do more, fantastic. If all you can give is a few bucks a year, we still want you
as a member fueling this work.

In addition, the first 200 members will be AHLA’s founding members. Founding Members will get exclusive Dingbat pins, as well as unique badges to recognize their OG status on our member forum – see below for more information on the forum and our more open communication system. Click here to see the different membership levels.

What does it mean to be a member? Because this is a mass movement, as an official member you will continue to have a vote and a say in the future of this organization. All members will be invited to our exclusive online forum where we do all of our work. We’ve been trialing the forum as the communication system for all of us volunteers who run the org for the last couple of months, and we’re excited to open it up to members as well so
that everyone can talk together. That will allow us to more openly discuss decisions, plans, interesting things happening in LA, or just have a good conversation. Members will also be able to vote on key decisions and organizational priorities throughout the year, and continue to be the backbone of our collective work together.

We are excited to build this next chapter of our movement together. Please become a Founding Member and join us today.

From all the volunteers at Abundant Housing, thank you!


Why Projects Advocacy?

by Leonora Camner

LA is in the midst of a housing crisis, and desperately needs more housing construction to combat soaring rents and homelessness. Abundant Housing LA advocates for many individual housing projects, ranging from supportive housing to market-rate housing. Some of these projects are significant, such as the 700 unit Paseo Marina, while some are as small as only 50 units.

I have been a volunteer for AHLA since 2016, and serve on the steering committee as the Online Director. With my background in housing rights law, tackling the housing crisis and getting people off the streets and into homes is my passion.

Sometimes I’m asked why we bother supporting such small projects, considering that we spend volunteer resources researching, writing support letters, and speaking in support of small projects at hearings. How will a 50-unit project impact the housing crisis, some people ask, when Los Angeles has a housing deficit in the hundreds of thousands? Why don’t we focus only on larger projects and pro-housing policies?

And all this advocacy adds up: members of Abundant Housing LA have written in support of 32,000 units of housing, including 2,400 units of affordable housing. These numbers make a difference to a lot of Angelenos. Every single unit of housing matters. A new house is a person or a family with a roof over their head.

But beyond just the numbers of new housing created, AHLA’s projects advocacy has a greater purpose. Projects advocacy is a part of our strategy for changing Los Angeles’ housing culture.

Too many people see new housing as a negative thing. They see inconvenience from construction and traffic. But in the midst of this housing crisis, more and more people are seeing housing projects as beneficial. They see tall buildings going up and associate that with the neighbors that will have space to live. They see rooms for students to study in, and rooms for kids to play in. They see kitchens for cooking meals with family and friends. They also see a reduction in car traffic, and an increase in walkability and livability. They see the clean air and environmental benefits coming their way.

Focusing on the human benefits of housing transforms something that seems like an intrusion into a change that we welcome and encourage. This is the culture that we need to have in Los Angeles if we are ever to close the housing deficit, get people off of the streets, end sprawl, and leave the housing affordability crisis behind us.

Projects advocacy is essential in attaining that new vision. At hearings for housing projects of all kinds, Los Angeles decision-makers, such as planners, neighborhood councilmembers, and city councilmembers, are used to hearing local people resist new housing. They don’t hear from the people who have been displaced from the area, or people who can’t afford to move to the area. They don’t hear from busy people who are working multiple jobs to afford rent in the neighborhood, and who don’t have time to attend hearings.

Predictably, this means that negativity around new housing is deep and pervasive in Los Angeles, and to many, that negativity represents a consensus.

However, when pro-housing advocates show up to hearings to support housing, they radically alter the thinking of everyone connected, including the decision-makers and the local residents.

Last year, pro-housing members of the community attended Abundant Housing LA’s Happy Hour > Advocacy Hour, and spoke in support of the 431 N La Cienega Ave project. People shared their diverse perspectives on housing, including their own struggles with affordable housing, their knowledge on urban planning and the benefits of density, and the history of racist exclusion behind much of single family home zoning in LA. Anti-housing community members attending the hearing were visibly moved. The project was then supported by the Neighborhood Council. But more importantly, the community’s view on housing was permanently changed.

It’s common to encounter people who genuinely cannot comprehend that anyone would support new housing. They have never encountered a sincere pro-housing vision. Without exposure to the beneficial aspects of housing, they only see development as change to resist. Through projects advocacy, our volunteers expose people to a new vision of housing. This exposure changes the dialogue on all future housing projects and zoning plans, even if no one shows up from AHLA to speak.

On top of that, projects advocacy changes the community benefits neighborhoods expect from housing developers. Currently, it is customary for neighborhoods to ask for, and receive, a “haircut” from the project, which is a reduction in the total number of units. While a “haircut” in a small project might only result in a loss of 5 or 10 units, when almost every project loses a percentage of units, this is a major reduction in housing production in Los Angeles county.

By showing up to speak in support of housing, AHLA volunteers instead ask for more humanitarian and inclusionary concessions from developers, such as an addition of units, a reduction of parking, or an increase in affordability.

Projects Advocacy is a great way to get involved with AHLA. It’s an amazing way to make an impact as a single individual in LA’s housing process. Even just submitting letters through our Advocacy Forms (sent out in our newsletters on a regular basis) is a great way to make a difference.

Imagine a Los Angeles where our neighborhoods demand more housing in planned projects. Through AHLA’s projects advocacy, maybe we can get there.


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

by Brent Gaisford, Director of Abundant Housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Expo Line Living is Hard to Find

by Anthony Dedousis

For over a year, I’ve lived in Palms and taken the Expo Line to work in downtown Santa Monica. Despite the Expo Line’s flaws, I love being able to read and relax on the train and to leave the car at home. Over 64,000 daily Expo Line commuters seem to agree.

On the way to and from work, the train carries me past a construction site; the 595-home Linea project, a set of mixed-use residential and commercial buildings adjacent to the Expo/Sepulveda Metro station. I’ve watched the project blossom: a year ago, it was a dirt field, and today, it’s a set of buildings well on their way to completion. It’s an example of the kind of dense development Los Angeles needs in order to reduce car congestion and pollution; more people living and working near Metro means less traffic and sprawl.

The 595-home Linea project, adjacent to the Expo/Sepulveda Metro station.

The Westside extension of the Expo Line (from Culver City to Santa Monica) opened in May 2016, and recently, I became curious to know how much housing has been planned near the new stations since they opened. Also, as a newer Palms resident, I also wanted to learn more about AHLA’s role in organizing pro-housing activists in the neighborhood.

Using the city’s database of all new building permits (effectively, new housing construction), I tabulated the number of new homes permitted in the ZIP codes where the new Metro stations are located, for the two years prior to the extension opening (May 2014 through May 2016) and the two years afterward (May 2016 through May 2018). Then, I honed in on the housing development located within a half-mile radius of the four new Metro stations in the city of Los Angeles: Expo/Bundy, Expo/Sepulveda, Rancho Park, and Palms.

Figure 1: New Expo Line stations and half-mile radii

At first glance, it looks like Metro-adjacent new housing did accelerate post-opening: 818 homes were permitted in the two years after the Expo Line extension opened, compared to 236 homes in the two years prior (an increase of 250%). But almost all of this increase came from two projects: a 100-unit building near Expo/Bundy and, you guessed it, the 595-unit Linea project at Expo/Sepulveda that I see every weekday. If not for those two projects, new housing would actually have decreased by 50% after the opening of the Expo Line extension.

When we analyze housing growth by station, the impact of those two projects becomes clearer. Almost all the growth near Expo/Sepulveda came from the Linea project (595 out of 624 units). There are only small upticks near Expo/Bundy and Palms, and no growth in Rancho Park, an area with primarily one-family houses.

Figure 2: Homes permitted within a half-mile of new Expo Line stations

When we look at the size of the new proposed buildings, it becomes even clearer that almost all the new housing in the Expo/Bundy and Expo/Sepulveda areas are a result of the two projects highlighted earlier, and that very few midsize apartments (5-50 units) and multifamily houses (2-4 units) have been permitted. No apartments or multifamily homes have been permitted in Rancho Park.

Figure 3: Percentage of homes permitted post-Expo Line opening, by building sizeCould overall demand be low for new housing in these Westside neighborhoods? I compared new housing development within the half-mile radii surrounding Metro stations to the portions of these ZIP codes further away. In both areas, development was 130% higher in 2018 than in 2014, two years before the Expo Line extension opened. (The chart likely understates 2018 housing development, since the data are only current as of October.) It seems unlikely that Westside housing demand fell between 2016 and 2018.

Figure 4: Number of homes permitted annually in ZIP codes 90025, 90034, and 90064

This lack of new housing near Metro stations is largely due to the city’s zoning policy. As soon as you read the words “zoning policy”, your eyes probably glazed over, but these esoteric rules have a major impact on housing development and affordability. Much of the Westside, including blocks near Expo Line stations, is zoned for one- and two-family houses. Historically, city councilmembers have opposed efforts to add housing on the Westside, for fear of antagonizing vocal homeowners.

The two Metro-adjacent developments previously mentioned are exceptions. The Expo/Bundy project is being built on a former parking lot, and the Linea development is on land that had been zoned as industrial. As a result, they faced less community opposition (though not none; as originally planned, Linea would have had 50 more homes, a supermarket, and a Target). Still, zoning policy has stifled the development of “four-plexes” (four-family houses) and small apartment buildings, which could put a dent in the gap between housing supply and demand without years of construction.

Los Angeles has begun taking slow steps towards increasing the housing supply near mass transit. In 2016, voters approved Measure JJJ, which allows taller, multifamily buildings to be built within a half-mile of a Metro station, as long as the project sets aside a share of homes for low-income residents and pays union wages. The city finalized its Transit Oriented Communities guidelines in September 2017.

Los Angeles is also updating its zoning regulations around the new Expo Line stations. In July, the City Council approved the Expo Line Transit Neighborhood Plan (TNP), which would encouraging denser, more walkable development within a half-mile of Westside Expo Line stations.

However, the process of developing the plan has been long and cumbersome. Intended to be completed in two years, the TNP is on year six and remains unimplemented even after the City Council’s approval. A nuisance lawsuit from an organization with a history of aggressively opposing transit-oriented development has created an additional roadblock. This drawn-out, uncertain process has likely hurt Expo-adjacent housing production over the past few years, as builders and property owners wait for the TNP to be finalized and put in place.

Furthermore, the approved plan is only a mixed success for housing advocates. In 2018, AHLA aggressively campaigned for revisions to an overly cautious first iteration of the Expo Line plan. As a result, the final version was an improvement: it increased the amount of space dedicated to denser, mixed-use development, upzoned enough space for 4,400-6,000 new homes over the next 15 years (including a cluster of single-family houses near Expo/Bundy station), and contained an affordable housing requirement. But the plan was subjected to political interference, as a provision that would have upzoned Pico Boulevard near Expo/Sepulveda and Rancho Park stations was removed at the request of the city councilman for that district, Paul Koretz. Voters in Koretz’s district who are tired of traffic and rising rents should reflect on his statement to the Los Angeles Times during the TNP debate: “I don’t think people want to see significant rezoning around single-family neighborhoods whether they’re near transit or not.”

The slow, piecemeal progress in increasing the housing supply near the Expo Line shows that building mass transit alone isn’t enough, especially when zoning rules favor the status quo. It also highlights the impact that advocates like AHLA can have on planning policy: when the Expo Line TNP is (finally) implemented, we expect it to dramatically increase the amount of Metro-adjacent new housing. There are two major opportunities on the horizon for advocates to fight for faster, city-wide progress on housing:

1. Los Angeles is currently developing a Transit Neighborhood Plan for the stretch of Mid-City that will be served by the Purple Line, starting in 2023. Housing advocates must push for denser new housing along major streets and softer off-street parking requirements, and must pressure the city to complete the TNP in an efficient timeframe. Angelenos facing rising rents can’t afford another 6+ year process.

2. The California State Senate is currently debating Senate Bill 50, which would permit 4 to 5 story multifamily residential buildings to be constructed within a half-mile of many rail stations and job-rich areas. AHLA strongly endorses SB 50: it has the potential to achieve transformative change throughout Los Angeles in one fell swoop, rather than through a Sisyphean, years-long effort at the neighborhood level.