Who gets to live in LA? A bold plan to create affordable housing has a serious flaw

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Who gets to live in LA? A bold plan to create affordable housing has a serious flaw

Op-ed, LA Politics

Maria Patio Gutierrez

November 27, 2023

Last December, Mayor Karen Bass took steps to accelerate the production of affordable housing in Los Angeles by issuing Executive Directive 1. This measure streamlines the approval of new multi-unit housing by exempting them from the usual series of hearings, appeals and environmental reviews. The city planning commission voted this month to continue ED1, bringing the directive one step closer to becoming permanent.

On the surface, this is the kind of bold housing policy Los Angeles needs. The city is not building nearly enough units to meet demand. In fact, a LAist analysis found that between 2010 and 2019, the city lost eight times more homes affordable to low-income residents than it added.

This is partly due to developers being deterred by lengthy, expensive and risky approvals


processes for new construction. On the face of it, ED1 helps address this problem: the Ministry of Urban Planning reported that it had approved more than 50 new developments under the directive by the end of October and had 55 other applications pending, with the addition projected. of 12,383 new affordable homes.

But what’s missing from this success story is how this directive is reshaping the character and makeup of Los Angeles’ working-class neighborhoods and displacing longtime residents. In her effort to permanently streamline affordable housing construction, Mayor Bass is asking the city to answer a bigger question: Who gets to live in Los Angeles?

According to our analysis of city data, in the first ten months of ED1, more than a third of new developments submitted under the guideline occurred in South Los Angeles, an area with one of the highest concentrations of Angelenos living in poverty. We also found that a third of these developments in South LA require the demolition of existing affordable housing, eliminating at least 62 rent-stabilized units in the area and displacing hundreds of residents, many of whom cannot afford to move elsewhere in to move to their neighborhood or region. City. Thanks to the streamlined process, renters have just a few months to find a new home. We’ve spoken to many of these residents who are afraid of becoming homeless.

It’s also worth noting where ED1 developments aren’t happening. In June 2023, Mayor Bass revised the directive to exclude parcels zoned for single-family homes, which initially made up more than half of approved projects, an Abundant Housing analysis shows.

This change came after the city planning department received feedback from surveyed residents and members of the city planning department

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The city council was concerned about apartment buildings falling in the middle of single-family neighborhoods. This exemption prevents the city from streamlining the construction of affordable housing in these areas with the least resources and lowest density. It also makes multifamily residential zones more of a target for developers.

If LA’s wealthy neighborhoods are preserved at the expense of low-income neighborhoods, we will all feel the consequences: rising rents while the number of rent-stabilized housing units continues to shrink; an increase in homelessness, especially among seniors and retirees on fixed incomes who have no other housing options; less diversity in Los Angeles as residents of affected neighborhoods, who are predominantly black and brown, disperse outside the city to pay rent; and more traffic as families have to move further from their schools and jobs.

Los Angeles is in dire need

to make

more affordable housing and streamlining the development process are a necessary step. But city leaders must be aware of what could be destroyed if the approach is not equitable. Before ED1 is made permanent, the city should exempt rent-stabilized units from the streamlining process so that a more thorough review can occur and tenants have more time to consider their options. The city must further ensure that developers, even those pursuing 100% affordable housing projects, some of which may technically be exempt, comply with relocation, right to return, and right to remain obligations under California’s Housing Crisis Act of 2019 .

Displaced tenants should also receive more robust relocation services, including assistance in securing comparable replacement housing in the same area. Under the current process, the city provides a list of potential housing providers and tenants are charged with finding affordable housing.

Finally, single-family homes should not be exempt from streamlining. Such an exemption reflects the kind of NIMBY position that got us into this affordable housing crisis in the first place. It will only reinforce the inequities that housing policy has shaped in Los Angeles, as affluent neighborhoods remain relatively protected from change while low-income neighborhoods are dismantled for the sake of growth.

Los Angeles leaders must consider the unintended consequences ED1 could have. Our city must balance the need to build affordable housing with the need to keep our most vulnerable residents and communities housed and intact. Failure to do so risks undermining the effectiveness of this directive, which aims to ensure more Angelenos have access to affordable housing, not fewer.

Maria Patio Gutierrez is director of policy and advocacy, equitable development and land use at Strategic Actions for a Just Economy in Los Angeles.


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