American Institute of Architects Los Angeles Issues
a Roadmap to Ending the Houselessness Crisis
Seven Strategies Comprise the “House All Angelenos” Call-to-Action
June 24, 2021 (Los Angeles, CA)–Noting the deepening harm of the houselessness and housing crises, the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles (AIALA) urged Los Angeles city leaders to adopt seven strategies that address the affordable housing shortage and facilitate inclusive, long-term, caring solutions for the over 66,000 residents that lack adequate shelter in our region.
“On a daily basis, architects create supportive, affordable, and market-rate housing throughout the Los Angeles area. It is our responsibility to share the expertise we have garnered with our region at this time of crisis,” said AIALA President Wade Killefer, FAIA. “While these strategies lead to housing for those currently without, they also elevate life for all Angelenos. They improve neighborhoods, elevate the region through inclusivity, and support the Los Angeles business community because stable housing supports stable workforces.”
Sarah Lorenzen, AIA, chair of the AIALA Governmental Outreach Committee (GO!), stated: “The seven strategies put forth to elected officials and Los Angeles residents are fact-based, implementable solutions. In the coming months, we will look forward to meeting with elected officials, business leaders, neighborhood councils and community members to discuss how these tools serve people and community.”
The strategies are:
(1) Act to repeal 1986 Prop U’s downzone along all of the commercial boulevards.
Twenty-five years ago, the passage of Prop U in Los Angeles cut allowable density on commercial boulevards in half, reducing it from a floor-area ratio (FAR) of 3:1 to 1.5:1–immediately decreasing the by-right development capacity of the majority of parcels in Los Angeles. (Floor area ratio is the relationship between a building’s total allowed floor area, and the size of the parcel on which it sits.)
“This is a development strait-jacket […] along our mixed-use boulevards, precisely where we should have density,” noted the AIALA Government Outreach Committee (GO!) which developed the seven strategies adopted by the AIALA Board of Directors.
(2) Incentivize, and allow as standard, new models of housing.
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.
The definition of a typical family has evolved; 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.
(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)).
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; but projects could be built for under $200k with no government help other than the property tax exemption. Using the property tax exemption, projects could be capitalized privately, without other public subsidies or loans.
Two bills that recently passed in the California State Legislature, AB 1763 (Chiu) and AB 2345 (Chiu, Gonzalez) 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 ? mile of transit – if the projects utilize public financing. Yet, projects should be able to get the exemption without the requirement to utilize public financing.
(4) Provide a fully coordinated, on-line submittal and approval process.
Currently, multiple approvals by city agencies are required, each with their own personnel, and their 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. 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. 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.” These include “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.
The AIALA Board of Directors and the Government Outreach Committee look forward to discussing the reasoning behind and the benefits of each of the above strategies with members of the press covering the houselessness and housing crisis, as well as community members and those affecting public policy.
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Tibby Rothman, Hon. AIA|LA
Director, Marketing and Public Relations