By David M. Greenwald
I was reading an editorial from the LA Times from earlier this month, “To ease Los Angeles’ crushing housing shortage, the city needs a lot more new homes, especially affordable ones. Yet the City Council has been sitting on two community plans that would make it easier for developers to construct housing and boost the number of low-income units in downtown and Hollywood.”
Change the names and you could be writing about Davis. Last week, the council received an analysis of their inclusive housing policy by Cascadia. Once again, the report, confirmed the difficulty of building affordable housing of this sort. The council response was to create a subcommittee of Gloria Partida and Bapu Vaitla to look into this further and come up with some proposals.
On paper that makes sense, but it also takes time.
It’s already been more than a year since HCD rejected the city’s Housing Element, and just this month, did the Planning Commission receive a revised proposal.
There are a lot of important ideas and considerations floating out there – how they coalesce into a workable plan will determine whether the city can address at least some of its pressing housing issues. The problem at this point – there seems no urgency.
From the Housing Element, “The 2021-2029 Housing Element acknowledges that while some governmental requirements and standards may not represent constraints in and of themselves, or represent justifiable impositions on new development, the cumulative impact of the City’s governmental requirements and standards can add significant cost.
“The Housing Element therefore incorporates an assortment of policies and programs aimed at reducing the cumulative impact of governmental requirements, standards, and processes on development.”
There are a lot of go ideas here…
They are moving forward on this one: “Conduct a comprehensive update of the Affordable Housing Ordinance. The process for updating the ordinance will include conducting a study to determine appropriate inclusionary proportions and affordability levels, analyze in-lieu fees and other alternatives to providing units on site, and evaluate other parameters of the ordinance as appropriate.”
Part of the proposal incorporates this idea: “Provide incentives to the development of affordable housing through measures such as parking reserves or waivers on development standards such as setbacks, lot coverages, and open space of up to 10 percent.”
The most controversial might be: “Put a package of housing policy initiatives on the ballot to, among other things, amend language already in Measure J/R/D that exempts from its public vote requirements projects that provide affordable housing or facilities needed for city services, or other changes to city ordinances that would help create affordable housing.”
There is also: “allow housing developments with at least 20 percent affordable housing by-right, consistent with objective design standards.”
There are those who will argue that we need to just end Measure J, but if we can’t get an affordable housing exception to Measure J, how is it that we are going to repeal Measure J.
As I have noted a number of times, the city believes that they can accommodate RHNA requirements for affordable housing this cycle internally – meaning they can do it through infill. I’m skeptical that they can because it relies on about 83 or so affordable units in the Downtown and the report by Cascadia casts real doubt over whether than can occur.
I think as an interim step, the city should look at property that it already owns in the city and then find non-profits who can get the funding needed to build affordable housing on those sites.
In the longer run, the city manager acknowledged that they probably will not be able to meet affordable housing requirements through infill in the next cycle.
Creating a means by which to exempt affordable housing heavy sites from votes is probably the only legitimate course of action there. But that is going to inevitably lead to the question – how much is enough.
100 percent is the current requirement, plus other findings which makes the current Measure J unworkable. But would the community be willing to go to 50 percent? 35% like the previous ordinance, or even 20 percent?
My guess is that 20 percent is a non-starter, 35 percent is unlikely and even 50 percent would be a life.
Then you have to ask the key question – can you get to 50 percent? The advantage of a peripheral project is that you could probably have a land dedication site of sufficient size to accommodate a much higher percentage of on-site affordable. And you could have the density on the rest of the site to off-set those costs with market rate housing.
But making it all work, that’s going to be a challenge. Doing it in any expedited manner of time seems unreasonable. But that’s the challenge our community faces.