PLANNING WATCH – If you went to see a doctor with a serious illness and he recommended an unapproved miracle cure, you might be intrigued, but once you got out, you would seek another doctor.
Yet that is the approach of the Los Angeles Times and the Department of City Planning to the worsening housing crisis. They still come up with the same old zoning “solutions” without proof.
This repetition of recycled proposals was in the spotlight this week in a LA Times editorial on housing and town planning awareness material for LA housing element update. They both argue that Los Angeles can address its housing crisis – expressed as out-migration, overcrowding and homelessness – by watering down the city’s zoning laws. These aids to investors are supposed to encourage them to build more housing. This induced real estate boom will then lower rents through the magic of supply and demand.
According to the latest LA Times housing editorial, “. . .Ilocal zoning in too many cities severely restricts sites for denser housing, including apartments and townhouses. This is how the official Los Angeles document recycles the baseless claim that homelessness results primarily from a housing shortage, not a lack of money for those who no longer have a home. .
This is the same message that the Los Angeles Department of Urban Planning presented in its Housing Element webinars. That’s what an LA Times letter writer took away from this webinar.
“Recently, I attended a webinar given by the City of Los Angeles Planning Departmentand some of the stats they shared highlighted the need to change single-family zoning to accommodate more people.
In Los Angeles, 57% of the land is used for residential housing, 70% of which is zoned for single-family homes. Last year, the greatest number of new units built were for high-income residents. The average rent is well above what most people can afford, and people are living in overcrowded housing to share the costs.
Changing the zoning to limit single family areas only will allow more flexibility. The alternatives are more people on the streets or the expansion of the city into threatened environments. Both are unacceptable.
While the term zoning never appears in public planning documents, it is spread through obscure language. For example, Housing Element’s project Program 121 calls for zoning without using the word. Ditto for programs 46, 48, 49, 50, 61, 65 and 81.
“Program 121: The rezoning program is expected to be implemented through a number of working efforts, including updates to up to 16 community plans (four West LA plans and six SE/SW Valley plans, two Downtown plans, Boyle Heights, Hollywood, Harbor-Gateway and Wilmington), two specific plans (CASP and Slauson NPT), as well as at least one citywide ordinance that will create additional zoning capacity through an expansion of affordable housing incentive programs (see program 48) or other zoning code changes.
Four problems: There are at least four major problems with the LA Times and City Planning’s zoning solution to the housing crisis.
First, single-family zoning no longer exists. Owners can legally build a separate 1200 square foot lot at market price Accessory housing for seniors (ADU) in their backyard. The only constraint is the location of the power lines. They can also add a separate 500 square foot Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit to their home and a Tiny House on Wheels to their backyard. Together, this means that four separate dwelling units are already permitted on lots that were previously limited to one house.
Second, Los Angeles has no shortage of zoning which automatically allows apartments. In Los Angeles each shopping area and three of the six manufacturing zones allow apartment buildings. As a result, the construction of LA existing zoning would increase the population of LA from 3.9 to 7.2 million people. If the ADU and density bonus options are taken into account, the building zoning population of Los Angeles would be 9 million people.
Additionally, the Transit-focused guidelines allow residential developers to double the size (FAR) and density of a building, and also reduce on-site parking. These density bonuses are granted through administrative approval by the LA Department of Building and Safety. No owner or nearby resident ever receives a notice. As for public hearings, decision-making meetings and appeals to challenge these projects, they no longer exist. Additionally, developers can also request more height for a project, knowing that this discretionary approval is good as gold.
Third, there is no shortage of rental housing in Los Angeles. For rent signs are displayed in apartment buildings in Los Angeles, as well as in nearby cities. These vacant units will never house the homeless because the homeless cannot pay their rents. Even though the minimum wage in Los Angeles is $15/hour, a renter would need to earn $37/hour to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles. To buy a basic house, an Angelino needs a annual salary of $127,000 ($61/hour), depending THE braked.
Fourth, zoning does not produce affordable housing. Zoning increases property values, which increases the cost of infill housing. According to current trends, new homes at market price are selling quickly, while apartments have consistently high vacancy rates. While landlords are now offering potential tenants incentives such as a free monthly rate, they will never reduce rents to the point homeless people could afford.
There is no mystery to explain the gap between vacant housing and those in need of housing. the Explanation of the vacancy report rings totally true.
“We are not building enough affordable housing. While luxury construction is booming, affordable housing construction is not. Amid mass evictions and displacement, a persistent lack of construction of deeply affordable housing has resulted in a shortage of more than 500,000 affordable homes in Los Angeles County. The gap between the homes most needed and those actually being built continues to widen, adding to an unprecedented affordable housing crisis.
Why then do developers build expensive housing when there is massive unmet demand for affordable housing in Los Angeles? The answer is that real estate investors know they are getting the highest rate of return from market-rate apartments built in neighborhoods close to places of employment, recreation and shopping. That’s why real estate investors are pushing to improve zoning in these preferred neighborhoods and then flipping their most prized possessions or building luxury homes. The culprit is their business model. Like all investors, they want to maximize their profits, which is also why they lobby for top zoning and related zoning gifts.
(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatch. He serves on the United Neighborhoods Board of Directors for Los Angeles. (UN4LA) and co-chairs the new Greater Fairfax Residents Association. Previous Planning Watch columns are available at CityWatchLA Archives. Please send your questions and corrections to [email protected].) Prepared for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.