From the desk of Will Wright, Hon. AIA|LA
Director of Government & Public Affairs

Notes from the 6th Annual Design For Dignity Conference

Thank you to everyone that was able to join us last week for the 6th annual AIALA Design For Dignity conference on housing and homelessness. We are extremely grateful for the support of our sponsors and everyone personally and professionally committed to providing solutions to address our ongoing housing affordability crisis.

If you were able to join us at the conference, please share your feedback via this BRIEF SURVEY.

If you didn’t have a chance to join the discussion, here are the links to view the recordings of the conference:

June 24, 2021 – Day One

June 25, 2021 – Day Two

In light of the heavy news that Los Angeles City Council just passed an ordinance to restrict homeless encampments, and to address the complexity of the issue, it’s important that we contextualize our housing and homelessness challenge with more direct, and collaborative input from people with lived-experience.  Our housing market isn’t broken — it’s working exactly as designed, with its numerous systemic and fatal flaws (redlining, exclusionary zoning, fiscalization of land use) viscerally present now more so than ever.  To address the complexity of our homelessness crisis, which has been thirty-to-forty years in the making, we must first seek to gain a deeper understanding of its root causes.

In a presentation by Molly Rysman – Chief Programs Officer, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), she encourages us to re-frame the issue so that we can more effectively address the root causes, rather than just treat the symptoms. In her words, we do not have a housing emergency, we have the logical consequences and outcomes from a flawed system. To address the comprehensive continuum of “Housing Justice”, we need to address the following:  reparations for stolen land, dispossession, and slavery, a legal right to housing, legal entitlements and protections, a stronger social safety net, cooperative land stewardship, and the co-creation of solutions, especially with input from those with lived-experience.

According to Rysman, in the City of Los Angeles, we currently have 19,600 units of permanent supportive housing and we need and an additional 42,000 PSH units to meet existing need, with many thousands more facing the imminent threat of eviction or displacement.

Therefore, doing everything that we can to support and expedite the delivery of supportive and affordable housing is just the beginning.  We need to also address the underlying, systemic injustices of our housing market.

Additional priorities I heard  at the 6th annual Design For Dignity include:

Establish legislation that declares housing as a human right, and create an affordable housing overlay ordinance that permits all projects with at least 50% affordable units to be built by-right.

1. To advance legislation to make housing choice vouchers universally available to low-income households, modernizing and expanding the Section 8 program to make it more palatable to housing providers. Congress can pay for this added expense by eliminating the annual $25 billion mortgage interest deduction subsidy.

2. Prioritize and fast-track interim, transitional, and supportive housing that is designated to serve our currently houseless population by delegating authority to HCID-LA for the approval of funding commitments and LACP for by-right entitlements.

3. Acquisition as a complement to new construction:

A. Incentivize private capital with property tax abatements to purchase and rehab existing housing, to preserve neighborhoods, and extend affordability covenants (> 50 years). This will also extend the useful life of buildings, reduce GhGs and optimize embodied carbon, prevent displacement, and leverage public investment more broadly.

B. Expand and streamline a Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA), which will allow qualified, mission-driven housing providers “the right of first offer and/or refusal to purchase eligible properties to prevent displacement and create long-term affordability.”

4. Establish and scale-up a ‘missing middle’ home-ownership program for communities of color, utilizing the design solutions offered in the recent Lowrise LA competition.

5. Eliminate site plan review for all housing projects that are 100% affordable, and raise the threshold to 200 units for all housing in general.

6. For projects with at least 50% affordable housing, establish a by-right entitlement process that can be approved by LACP over the counter, consolidating all of the various zoning clearances required by all of the other city departments. This will free up City personnel resources and allow LADBS to more effectively focus on building code plan check and inspections.

7. Sunset low impact development provisions for housing projects for at least five years, or until we’ve reached our affordability targets and ‘functional zero’.

8. Audit the existing departmental clearance process, re-configure departmental authority, and consolidate or eliminate clearances that are not essential to fire, life, and safety.

As demonstrated during the conference, thousands of units of affordable and supportive housing, as well as, interim shelter and transitional housing have been built over the last several years.  Architecture firms like KFA Architecture, Egan | Simon Architecture, Lahmon Architects, AC Martin, The Architects Collective, Koning Eizenberg, Abode Communities, and Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects [LOHA], to just name a few, are each designing and producing thousands of units of housing, which have either just recently been opened, or are near completion — with many thousands of units more on the boards.

Although tried-and-true, as well as, innovative delivery methods are being actively scaled-up with best-practices replicated across regions, there is still much work to do before us.   The cost of housing is still sky high. To help lessen the costs, we need to significantly re-organize and improve the regulatory process.  We need to complement our “housing for all” strategy with programs to deliver direct payments, guaranteed income, and increase the supply of housing vouchers to all that qualify.  We also need to amplify efforts to convert commercial and office space to housing, to expand opportunities to build and finance ADU’s, as well as, to broaden the adaptation of modular and pre-fabricated components, which are all adding to our housing supply.

A lot is happening, with dozens of plans of action in progress.  But now, more than ever, we need your help to make genuine progress towards re-designing our systemically flawed housing system.

In the next several weeks, we’ll be organizing numerous meetings with city, county, and state officials, as well as, neighborhood councils and community organizations to share these ideas and our seven recommendations for cutting red tape, expanding zoning capacity, and expediting the delivery of more housing.

Please reach out to me at if you’d like to personally get involved with AIA Los Angeles as we work together to advocate for these solutions, as well as, our broader set of recommendations to ensure more housing for all.