Call for Action: House All Angelenos
Adopted by the AIALA Board on May 25, 2021
Leaders of Los Angeles:
Our communities have failed to properly address the ongoing houselessness crisis. Solutions to our very present emergency need to be inclusive and go beyond emergency measures, supporting long-term, caring solutions for the over 66,000 human beings that lack adequate shelter.
We propose seven specific affordable housing shortage and social justice related recommendations for consideration by the leaders of the City of Los Angeles:
(1) Act to repeal 1986 Prop U’s downzone along all of the commercial boulevards.
In 1986, Ballot Measure Prop U in the City of Los Angeles halved the allowable density on our commercial boulevards from 3:1 to 1.5:1, lowering the threshold for discretionary approval, and creating delay and uncertainty. As a direct result, tens of thousands of housing units did not get built. All development now requires discretionary approval to get back to a baseline of 3:1 (3-stories over an entire parcel). This is a development straight-jacket for our C-zones and along our mixed-use boulevards, precisely where we should have density.
(2) Incentivize, and allow as standard, new models of housing.
The definition of a typical family has evolved, and our codes should reflect that. Only about 20% of the US population live in traditional families, yet we have a lack of small-unit and shared housing stock. The definition of a dwelling unit could be expanded to be simply a room with a sink, a toilet, and a refrigerator (similar to a hotel), which would allow models with shared kitchens and shared showers. This would provide a ‘relief valve’ for those who are young and live independently, those living on limited incomes, people that need lower rent or those who do not want an individual kitchen.
(3) Advocate that the State Board of Equalization remove the requirement that developers obtain government financing to qualify for the property tax exemption (Property Tax Rule 140(a)(1) and (2)).
ABs 1763 and 2345 allow by-right projects for rent-restricted tenants and projects without parking garages. These bills allow developers to build unlimited density projects without discretionary approval if rents are below 60% of Average Median Income (AMI) levels within ½ mile of transit – if the projects utilize public financing. Projects should be able to get the exemption without the requirement to utilize public financing. Using the property tax exemption, projects could be capitalized privately, without other public subsidies or loans. Property taxes are the largest operational expense of any multifamily project, up to 50% of total expense load. Current costs per subsidized unit are over $500k; projects could be built for under $200k with no government help other than the property tax exemption.
(4) Provide a fully coordinated, on-line submittal and approval process.
Currently multiple approvals by city agencies are required, each with their own personnel, own varying and changing submittal requirements, supervisors and fees (LADWP, Planning, B&S, BOE, Metro, Transportation, Fire). An online one-stop digital plan review would streamline the process for the applicants and for the City agencies. Case Management with the Urban Design Studio could provide necessary and effective communication among departments.
(5) Modify transitional height restrictions which effectively downzone our commercial boulevards.
The R1 zone has height limits that reach out of the R1 zone and into the C2 zone, even if density is allowed along the commercial boulevard. Currently, if the R1 zone is 49′ from any portion of the building in the commercial artery, the height is limited to 25 feet (2-stories). Within 99′, it is limited to 33 feet. Most of our commercial arteries are R1-adjacent. Rather, the commercial zone (which should be taller) could transition into the lower-height zone via a stepping down from the commercial boulevard. This would mean upzoning a portion of the directly-adjacent R1 parcels.
(6) Advance inclusionary zoning (IZ) policies carefully designed to achieve pro-housing outcomes and increase the total number of new affordable homes.
As represented by Abundant Housing LA, “building inclusive cities requires our society to dismantle exclusionary zoning. Inclusionary zoning (IZ) is a specific set of policies designed to advance the goal of greater inclusivity. IZ is a system of requirements and incentives where developers of new market-rate, multifamily housing must set aside a percentage of the new units for lower-income residents.”
(7) Petition the Federal Government to declare that housing is an infrastructure right and provide generous Section 8 vouchers to all residents suffering from housing insecurity. Strongly advocate to Congress that it pass an American Jobs Plan bill that recognizes housing as infrastructure and increases funding for Section 8 vouchers to meet the needs of all residents suffering from housing insecurity.
With the Biden Administration’s call for infrastructure investment, now is the time.
In support of this call to action we would like to offer our members’ housing expertise as well as offer our upcoming annual Design for Dignity Conference as a platform for all individuals in the county to come together as a community and coalesce around, initiate, and fulfill strategies that reduce houselessness and increase housing affordability. We are well aware of current progress, but must also acknowledge that it may not be enough. A whole community approach is required going forward, and we want to support that approach better. We would like to request that city leaders consider these seven above recommendations and join us at Design for Dignity.
Let us come together as we emerge from this pandemic and radically rethink our communities as thriving places for everyone.
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Will Wright, Hon. AIA LA
Director, Government & Public Affairs
American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles Chapter
O: (213) 639-0764