WHAT IS ABUNDANT HOUSING? WHY DO WE NEED IT IN LA?
AND HOW CAN WE GET IT?
Abundant Housing LA is a pro-housing organization committed to making homes in Los Angeles accessible to all. What does “abundant housing” mean? Abundant is just a fancy word for enough. We want L.A. County and the broader L.A. region to have enough homes so that anyone who wants to live here can find a good home that they can afford.
Because there are currently not enough homes in L.A., we are the Angelenos who say “YES! IN MY BACKYARD” to more housing of all kinds for all people. We also support changes to policies and plans to help everyone afford a place to live.
Abundant housing also means a diversity of homes. Los Angeles needs more homes of all types. We need more permanent supportive homes for the chronically homeless. We need more deed-restricted affordable homes for low-income households. We need more market-rate homes to bring rents down across the board. And we need both more traditional home types, and more new and innovative dwellings, to provide good options for the region’s diverse population.
Los Angeles’ shortage of homes accumulated over decades of under-building. It has helped cause a severe housing and homelessness crisis. By some measures Los Angeles is the least affordable city in the United States. Residents face low vacancy rates and high rents. These cost pressures have caused homelessness to rise; forced lower income households to spend a huge portion of their income on rent; pushed low and moderate income residents to leave L.A., and blocked newcomers from moving here.
Reversing these harms will require bold, multi-faceted reforms, but we are optimistic that Los Angeles can achieve abundant housing. We are inspired by L.A.’s past, when rapid homebuilding of both apartments and single-family homes allowed millions of people to move to and help shape Los Angeles. We are also inspired by other major metropolitan regions that allow rapid, infill home building and as a result have lower housing costs. Finally, we are encouraged by innovative housing policies that have recently been adopted by jurisdictions in the region, and by advocates who are pushing for more homes, more affordability, and stronger tenant rights.
To achieve a County (and broader region) with abundant housing, we need rules and plans that legalize the creation of more homes; that fund subsidies for housing for those who cannot otherwise afford it; and that strengthen legal rights for all tenants. We believe that an impactful package of pro-housing reforms must:
We first drafted a policy agenda in 2017, using a poll of our members to identify priorities. This second version expands upon the original. We have incorporated lessons that we learned from our advocacy for new homes; from our analysis of, and advocacy on, plans and policies; from collaborations and conversations with a wide range of organizations, planners, policy-makers and residents; and from observing trends in housing markets.
Our first agenda focused on the City of Los Angeles. This revised policy agenda is aimed at all jurisdictions in Los Angeles County. While existing policies and housing trends in each location vary, most of our recommendations will apply to most jurisdictions. The housing market in the L.A. region is linked, and we need action from all jurisdictions to achieve abundant housing.
This updated agenda contains more than 30 specific policy recommendations, organized into five categories. We encourage jurisdictions to adopt as many policies as possible. It is also important to pass some policies from all five of the categories. Solving our housing and homelessness crises requires action on all fronts. Advocates and decision-makers can think of these sets of policies like the five food groups. Take some of each onto your plate!
Plans and zoning in Los Angeles do not allow enough new homes to be built. This has created a housing shortage and housing and homelessness crises.
- Set the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) target for the SCAG region for at least at the 1.3 million homes level, and distribute them so more homes are built in high-demand, job-rich cities. This will ensure that there is enough zoned capacity to address projected needs from future growth, as well as help relieve current pressures on rent-burdened and overcrowded households. In allocating targets among cities, ensure that the allocation is higher in jurisdictions with more jobs and overall housing demand.
- Jurisdictions in L.A. County should set their zoned capacity to at least 50 percent above their projected 2040 population. This would provide ‘room to grow’ to help avoid housing shortages, very low vacancy rates, and out-of-control rents. The best places to increase housing are close to transit and jobs, on parcels that do not already have older apartments on them.
- Set minimum density on all residential-zoned lots to allow at least 4 homes, or at least 6 if 1 is deed-restricted affordable, so as to allow small multi-family housing. Other zoning regulations such as low floor area ratios (FAR) or maximum lot coverage can also make small multi-family building infeasible. For instance, FAR of at least .8 and lot coverage of at least .5 would allow a two-story fourplex on a standard sized (approximately 5000 sf) lot.
- Eliminate parking requirements within a mile of major transit stops. Never require more than one parking spot per home; do not require additional vehicle parking when use of a building changes; and allow off-site residential parking. Mandatory vehicle parking requirements limit new housing construction, make homes more expensive and result in bad, pedestrian-unfriendly streets.
- Adopt local density bonuses modeled after the City of L.A.’s TransitOriented Communities program, with:
- greater density bonuses than the state density bonus program;
- a category for “extremely-low income”; and
- all incentives available through a ministerial process.
- The City of L.A. should build upon the success of its TOC:
- Make TOC permanent or set TOC as a floor for density bonuses in community plans;
- Allow all incentives to be applied ministerially; and
- Expand the areas in which TOC rules apply to include, for instance, proximity to a single frequent bus stop.
- Allow 100% residential uses in all commercial zones. Jurisdictions should also allow live-work residential uses in light industrial zones that are poised to transition to more complete, mixed-use communities.
- Eliminate parking-only zones, changing zoning to that of the most housing-permissive adjacent property.
TO BUILD HOMES
Complex administrative and political approval processes make it difficult, time-consuming and expensive to build affordable homes, market rate homes, and permanent supportive housing. This discourages home-building and adds to the cost and rent of completed homes.
- Make more residential and mixed-use developments “by-right.” By-right means that projects that meet building codes and zoning standards can be approved without need for political approval by elected officials. Additionally, by-right developments do not trigger California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, meaning that they cannot be delayed or blocked by litigation. The threshold for by-right / ministerial review should be developments with 250 or fewer homes in the City of Los Angeles, 100 or fewer homes in jurisdictions with 100,000 or more residents, and 50 or fewer homes in jurisdictions with fewer than 100,000 residents.
- Expedite approval for deed-restricted affordable and supportive homes by requiring processing of all planning applications and building permits within 90 days.
- Waive all administrative planning and building fees for deed-restricted affordable and permanent supportive housing.
- Make it more difficult to appeal approvals of residential and mixed-use developments by increasing evidentiary thresholds. People who appeal housing proposals should have to demonstrate they are likely to be harmed by a residential development, and not simply that they have objections to its size, height, or density..
- Improve public outreach and public comment methods for planning and housing policy making and development application decisions. Ask residents how to meet housing targets rather than asking whether homes should be allowed; diversify methods, locations and times of outreach so that feedback reflects the demographic make-up of a jurisdictions- especially residents who are cost-burdened, unsheltered, living in overcrowded dwellings, etc.
- Support state-level CEQA reforms to make it easier to build homes in infill locations, which benefits the environment. Reforms can include more infill exemptions, changes to speed up the process, and comparisons of environmental impact of infill housing versus sprawl.
- Amend the state constitution to remove Article 34, which requires public votes before any low-income housing can be built. This provision is a legacy of mid-20th Century racist opposition to affordable housing, and it creates a barrier to the construction of badly needed homes for lower-income residents.
Los Angeles County has a shortage of more than half a million homes affordable to lower-income residents. Dedicated sources of local money can help attract more federal affordable housing tax credits and additional federal and state funding to provide subsidies and to build and preserve affordable homes. To ensure that we are facilitating more homes of all types, funding sources should not add costs to new home construction.
- Implement a real estate transfer fee and make it progressive by raising rate on larger sales. The rate should be doubled for sales above $2 million and potentially increased more for sales at higher tiers.
- When leasing city-owned land at market or subsidized rates or selling these properties, dedicate a portion of the revenues to affordable housing.
- Adopt a vacancy tax on buildings that are empty more than half the year and vacant lots, with equal treatment for local and out of town owners and exemptions for ADUs.
- If adopting an affordable housing fee on market rate development, apply only to units removed from the market through demolitions, not to new homes.
- Allow and tax home-sharing/ short-term rentals with reasonable regulations that allow the owner or tenant of a dwelling to rent it out for part of the year. Dedicate tax revenues to fund affordable housing.
- Support repeal or reform of Prop 13 to promote fairness and raise funds, some of which can go to affordable homes. Reforms can include a split roll removing non-residential properties from Prop 13; eliminating ‘semi-feudal’ aspects of Prop 13 such as the inheritability of older, low valuation; and phasing in market valuation for all residential properties.
- Study countywide or regional coordination on congestion pricing and/or regional tax sharing, with either resources dedicated to affordable housing or more funding for jurisdictions with higher home-building rates.
Allowing more homes and funding more affordable homes will help tenants by increasing vacancy rates and reducing landlords’ power to raise rents. We also need to enforce existing rights and expand rights so that tenants benefit from housing reforms.
- Give tenants in rent-controlled units displaced by new development a right to return to replacement affordable units.
- Require replacement of all rent-controlled units removed by new development with deeded affordable units on a 1 for 1 basis.
- Provide all tenants facing eviction with the right to counsel (publicly funded lawyers or funds to hire attorneys) for legal advice before eviction proceedings begin and court appearances related to eviction proceedings.
- Only allow eviction of tenants for just cause. These can include, for example, failure to pay rent, to abide by lease terms, and illegal behavior by the tenant. Ban eviction of tenants for the act of engaging in tenant organizing.
- Consider anti-rent gouging regulations, rent control on an emergency basis, or required multi-year leases. The first would set a cap on annual rent increases of 5 percent plus CPI. The second could have lower limits on rent increases but be timed to phase out when homelessness rates decline, and homebuilding and vacancy rates increase. The third would require that leases be at least 3 years, potentially with maximum rent increases each year, but no limit on rent rise between leases.
- Ban source of income discrimination for rental payments. Landlords should not be able to refuse to rent to tenants who will pay rent with assistance from section 8 vouchers or other subsidies. This will give lower income residents more options, and prevent landlords from discriminating against protected classes using vouchers as cover.
- Give tenants the right to buy (match offer on) rent-controlled buildings that are for sale.
- Establish a centralized service to notify the public – and especially low income residents- of new affordable housing units. The current process is burdensome for individuals in need of housing assistance because often information about new affordable units is only found in developer documents attached to city council meetings with no clear process for applying to units.
- Track and prosecute “slumlords” who repeatedly violate housing codes and tenant rights. By tracking and prosecuting repeat offenders, cities can encourage better housing conditions and also bar the worst slumlords from owning and managing rental homes.
HOUSING DESIGN, CONSTRUCTION & PLANNING
Homes are scarce and expensive not just due to policy barriers but because productivity has lagged in the construction industry. Jurisdictions can encourage more and better homes through flexible building codes, incentives for lower-cost, innovative construction, partnerships and pilot programs, and open data.
- Partner with other jurisdictions on a countywide or regional building challenge that would identify one or more publicly owned site and issue an RFP for residential or mixed-use projects that combine less expensive and quicker construction with high quality design, affordability and sustainability.
- When awarding funding or choosing project teams for affordable and supportive housing, incentivize less expensive and quicker construction methods.
- Establish a public-private sector committee to review building codes for opportunities for designs and materials that allow more rapid and efficient construction and better use of space, without reducing safety performance and livability.
- Better track local and regional housing market trends such as rents, vacancy rates and evictions – and use this data to adjust plans and policies.
- Digitize zoning and building rules and data for all parcels and make this available online as free, open-source licensed information so that it is clear what exists on each parcel and what can legally be built there.
Leonora Camner is executive director of Abundant Housing LA.