In the era of Donald Trump we have to be wary of agendas based on ‘alternative facts.’
Unfortunately, proponents of Measure S are misleading voters about their initiative. In their post-reality view of the world, stopping housing from being built will help renters and locking in sprawl and car-dominated infrastructure will improve traffic. Abundant Housing LA cares about the truth about housing in Los Angeles because we want to expand housing options and make housing more affordable. This reality check post explains what the real impacts of Measure S are likely to be.
Scroll down to see each of the “reality checks” we’ve provided for false Measure S claims, or click the links below to view individual rebuttals.
- Reality #1: Measure S would increase evictions
- Reality #2: Measure S would worsen traffic in Los Angeles
- Reality #3: Measure S would destroy more than 12,000 jobs a year
- Reality #4: Measure S wouldn’t affect campaign finance in LA
- Reality #5: The Measure S construction ban would raise your rent
- Reality #6: Measure S would make a bad housing shortage even worse
- Reality #7: Measure S would intensify gentrification and displacement
- Reality #8: Measure S would stop wayyy more than 5% of new housing
- Reality #9: Measure S would even ban 100% affordable housing projects
Reality #1: Measure S would increase evictions
The new owners of the Vintage Westwood senior center recently notified over 150 elderly, disabled residents that they were being evicted in order to upgrade their apartment units and lease them to wealthier households. This is terrible, and it’s opposed by virtually everyone in the city, including Abundant Housing LA.
The campaign behind Measure S has taken up the cause of the Westwood seniors, and they have implied that their initiative would stop these kinds of outrageous evictions from happening in the future.
This is flat-out not true: there’s nothing in the initiative that would stop or slow evictions in LA, for seniors or anyone else. In fact, by stopping the construction of thousands of new homes each year, Measure S will actually increase the pace of evictions and luxury/condo conversions.
Why? Right now, most of the demand for luxury housing is absorbed by development: the construction of new condos, senior housing, and apartments. Unfortunately, the demand for higher-end housing still isn’t being met in every neighborhood, so some unscrupulous investors continue to buy existing buildings and convert them to different uses for richer tenants.
If Measure S passes and new development on vacant or underused land is halted, conversions, demos, or upgrades of older buildings will become the primary way to satisfy demand at the high end of the market. LA may see an increase in the number of landlords evicting tenants as they rush to upgrade their buildings for this more profitable clientele. In fact, the type of construction that Measure S would stop evicts and displaces almost no one because developers are converting sites like parking lots and abandoned auto dealers to residential or mixed use buildings. The ratio of new housing units to existing units lost for projects seeking general plan amendments in 2015 was over 1000 to 1 while for the average project not seeking amendments, it was 5 to 1.
The growing number of Ellis Act evictions are a real problem in Los Angeles, and reforms should be pursued. Unfortunately, Measure S will only make these evictions more common, while doing nothing to protect those forced out of their homes.
Reality #2: Measure S would worsen gridlock
In their misguided attempt to “preserve” Los Angeles, the proponents of Measure S are actually in danger of making one of the city’s most frustrating problems even worse: traffic.
When it comes to traffic in Los Angeles, no one is happy with the way things work today. But Measure S doubles down on an unsustainable and outdated status quo.
Contrary to its promise, Measure S doesn’t stop LA’s population from growing. Instead, it forces us to sprawl further and makes it so that Angelenos will have no choice but to live farther and farther away from our jobs, making everyone’s commute even more grueling. In fact, research on housing and driving patterns in the LA region show that a household living in the exurbs drives up to 47% further each year than if that household lived in a denser neighborhood like Koreatown.
The kind of growth Measure S bans is the growth that would provide a real solution to Los Angeles’ traffic problems: let people live closer to their jobs and nearer to high-quality public transit. When we can plan for sustainable growth, we can create vibrant, walkable neighborhoods where people can live without having to drive for every trip—and when they do drive, they do so for shorter distances.
Measure S puts the city in a straitjacket, when what we need is flexibility. It’s a vision that looks to the past for solutions, when what we need is to plan for a sustainable future. Most of all, it’s more of the same when what we really need is change.
Reality #3: Measure S would destroy more than 12,000 jobs a year
As if causing rents to continue climbing isn’t bad enough, Measure S will also destroy tens of thousands of jobs in Los Angeles and cost taxpayers more than $70,000,000 each year in lost tax revenue if it passes.
And the proponents of Measure S know it, too. They just don’t care: their personal vendetta is more important to them than the jobs and financial stability of tens of thousands of Angelenos.
If Measure S passes, it will devastate housing construction across the city. Along the way, it will destroy upwards of 15% of the construction jobs in the city, with knock-on effects throughout the economy as jobless construction workers stop visiting restaurants, shops, and stores.
All told, that will mean 12,000 men and women out of work each year. We can’t let that happen to our friends and neighbors.
Throwing all of these people out of work would have huge impacts on the city’s budget as well. Between property taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes, the city will lose more than $70 million dollars a year in annual revenue. This is money that goes to pay the salaries of thousands of police and firefighters, among other hard working people who keep the city running.
Reality #4: The solution to corruption is campaign finance reform, not stopping housing
The LA Times has written several stories about developers contributing to the campaigns of elected officials, arguing that these donations might represent corruption—an intent to buy approvals for controversial projects. The supporters of Measure S have latched onto these stories, and have used them as a reason why you should vote yes on their initiative.
But if the perception of corruption is a problem, there’s a simple solution: ban developers from giving money to elected officials when they have projects under consideration. Several City Councilmembers have already proposed exactly that.
For all of Measure S campaign’s harping on this issue, the measure itself doesn’t actually address campaign contributions. Let’s limit the ability of developers to lobby politicians, but let’s do it with sensible campaign contribution reforms instead of destroying the homes that new and existing residents need.
Reality #5: Adding market-rate housing can help stabilize or reduce rents
It’s a common complaint from renters that luxury housing construction—such as those fancy condos being built in Venice, Echo Park, and other neighborhoods—encourages landlords to raise rents on ordinary units. But that isn’t how housing markets work.
The truth is that landlords in LA can get away with raising rents year after year because renters vastly outnumber the amount of units available on the market. When housing is in short supply, landlords have all the power. Fewer units means higher prices, and that isn’t good for anyone except property owners.
Measure S would restrict new development and strip away the ability to add new homes, including affordable units, which would in turn give landlords greater leverage to raise rents and continue squeezing renters. Adding more housing units—even at the high end—takes away that leverage, forcing landlords to compete for tenants and helping to keep rents stable. In other hot real estate markets where the inventory of new market rate units is rising, rents are finally starting to stabilize or come down.
Reality #6: Los Angeles is not “overdeveloped”—we have a housing shortage
According to the Measure S campaign literature, the city is being “overdeveloped” by greedy billionaires and corrupt politicians. Their initiative is framed as an effort to reign in out-of-control housing development.
The highly visible development in places like Hollywood and downtown LA belies an entirely different truth, however: Los Angeles has been under-building housing for nearly 30 years, and the decade since 2010 may produce the least new housing in at least 80 years.
Data from the American Community Survey shows that between 1940 and 1990, LA built between 150,000 and 250,000 homes each decade. In the decades since, we’ve averaged fewer than 100,000. A very large proportion of the units planned for this decade are focused in just a few communities, while most of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods have essentially closed themselves to newcomers.
For each year since 1990, LA’s population has grown on average 19.6% faster than its housing supply, and the imbalance has had disastrous consequences for housing affordability and accessibility. As the housing-population ratio spins further out of balance, landlords and property owners are able to take advantage of the housing shortage to charge more for rents and home prices, while renters and first-time home buyers suffer.
A 2015 report by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office claims that L.A. County built 1 million fewer homes than were needed to keep housing prices in line with average U.S. growth rates over the past 30 years. The latest data from the Census Bureau puts LA’s rental vacancy rates at historic lows of less than 3%, which has empowered landlords to raise rents on existing homes and has driven up the cost of new development. Of the most crowded 1% of census tracts in the U.S., about half are in Los Angeles County. These are the symptoms of a housing shortage, not an oversupply.
Don’t listen to the Measure S campaign’s false rhetoric: Los Angeles isn’t full, and it isn’t being overdeveloped. New housing is exactly what’s needed to relieve overcrowding and create new affordable units, and stopping development will just mean more misery, rising rents, and homelessness. We can do better than the lies and misrepresentations that Measure S is feeding us.
Reality #7: Measure S will intensify gentrification and displacement
The Yes on S people would have you believe that, somehow, their misguided measure would stop gentrification. They’re lying. In fact, gentrification in West Adams, Boyle Heights, and other distressed neighborhoods will intensify if Measure S is passed. Here’s how:
As young adults graduate from university and join the workforce, as creative class workers move to LA, and as families have children and look for larger housing units, the demand for housing rises. Due to the region’s overall housing shortage, there simply aren’t enough housing units to accommodate the growing number of Angelenos.
Desperate, these Angelenos look to adjacent neighborhoods for more affordable accommodations: neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights, Highland Park, and West Adams. They are now competing with locals of these and many other neighborhoods for the limited amount of housing. As a result, the price of homes and condos rise, and landlords in these areas see the opportunity to make more money and raise rents. This prices out many locals, leading to dissatisfaction and anger.
If Measure S is passed, all of that will get even worse, because there won’t be any new buildings in higher-income areas. All those wealthy families who would have moved into new condos and apartments on the Westside will instead go to the East and Southside, displacing low income families along the way. We need to build more, not less, if we’re going to reduce displacement.
Reality #8: Measure S will stop much more than 5% of housing construction
The spokesperson for Measure S, Jill Stewart, has repeatedly claimed that the initiative will only stop about 5% of development. In September, she said that Measure S “allows 95% of all development to continue while the greediest 5% of developers are put on a timeout.” This is yet another case of the Measure S campaign deliberately distorting the facts.
The truth is, while only about 5% of projects may be affected by Measure S, a much larger number of units will go unbuilt—and in the end, it’s units that matter to the housing shortage. Between 2013 and 2015, between 6 and 23 percent of permitted multifamily units required a general plan amendment, zone change, or height district variance. That’s about 6,000 homes that wouldn’t have been built over a 3-year period in which population growth already exceeded housing growth.
More recent numbers paint an even darker picture, with unofficial reports from the Department of City Planning stating that up to approximately 50 percent of units currently seeking permits would be banned if Measure S were to pass. It would also directly prevent the construction of thousands of homes reserved for low and moderate income households. That’s not a loss that Los Angeles can afford right now, when vacancy rates are at historic lows and renters are forced to play musical chairs for the few available units.
When Angelenos approved Measure JJJ in November with 64% of the vote, they stated emphatically that they’re okay with general plan amendments and zone changes, so long as they include affordable housing, union labor, and local hire. Measure S rolls back that progress, banning these very same projects and eliminating thousands of desperately needed market-rate and affordable units, as well as tens of thousands of jobs and millions in city tax revenue.
Reality #9: Affordable housing is not exempt from the Measure S ban
Again and again, proponents of Measure S have claimed that 100% affordable projects would be exempt from their ban. Their one-pager fact sheet says it explicitly: “Exempted will be 100% affordable housing projects.” Yet again, this is patently and demonstrably false, and it’s a big part of the reason that every single affordable housing developer and homelessness organization is opposed to Measure S.
The fact is, Measure S exempts some affordable housing projects—those requesting a zone change or a height district variance—but not those asking for a general plan amendment: those are permanently banned. And importantly, it’s the general plan amendment that is typically required for affordable housing and permanent supportive housing (for the homeless) projects to go forward.
On January 31st, Mayor Garcetti and representatives from the broad coalition opposing Measure S held a press conference at Casa Heiwa, a 100% affordable housing development built in 1996 that required a general plan amendment to be constructed. This is a project that, without qualification, would not have been able to be built if Measure S had been in effect. And Casa Heiwa is more a rule than an exception.
Recently, the city identified a dozen sites that they owned throughout LA that could be used for affordable and homeless housing development. They concluded that if Measure S were in effect, all but one could not go proceed: on just these 11 sites, there is the potential to build up to 742 affordable and permanent supportive homes. If Measure S is approved, none can be built. Freelance GIS analyst and cartographer Mehmet Berker visualized the impact of Measure S on affordable housing development in an article at Urbanize.LA.
What’s most frustrating is that the supporters of Measure S know this, but they’ve been comfortable lying to the voters in order to assuage their concerns about affordable housing production. We strongly encourage you to listen to what the experts are saying—particularly affordable housing and homeless housing developers. Call out the Yes on S campaign for their misrepresentations, and vote No on Measure S this March.