AFFORDABILITY, LIVABILITY & SUSTAINABILITY
Los Angeles has a crippling housing crisis. The lack of affordability and the number of unhoused people sleeping in the streets every night (60,000 people across Los Angeles County) are a direct result of the fact that there are simply not enough homes in Los Angeles. Rising rents bankrupt families, forcing them out of their homes. Housing is scarce near major job centers, pushing people into their cars, creating unbearable traffic and worsening climate change. The solution seems simple: build more homes all across Los Angeles. But the zoning laws in Los Angeles and much of California have restricted home building. Abundant Housing LA is a group of over 2,500 pro-housing Angelenos who passionately care about these interconnected issues. Our solution is to educate and advocate for homes for everyone.
The Vision of Abundant Housing LA
Affordability. Livability. Sustainability.
There is a housing affordability crisis in Los Angeles. The number of people experiencing homelessness has exploded to over 60,000 in the County. And rents keep going up while wages remain stagnant for the majority of people, forcing Angelenos out of the city and into unbearable commutes – which creates traffic and contributes to climate change.
Our city has explored many strategies, tactics, and ideas to address these problems. After decades of hard work by housing activists, politicians, and the voters, the housing crisis has gotten worse. Public investment has been made through Proposition HHH creating $1.2 billion for housing – and still, after two years not a single unit has been delivered.
Why is this happening? A group of activists and volunteers across the state (and the country) started trying to figure out the root cause of the crisis – what is the problem behind the problem? Why is LA’s crisis the worst in the country, while some places do not even face this issue? Why is it so hard to solve?
The good news is that Los Angeles’ housing crisis is solvable: it is largely caused by the city government’s shortsighted and outdated zoning policy. Unfortunately, the bad news is that zoning is complicated, and changing zoning rules won’t fix housing overnight. On top of that, there is a highly organized group of anti-housing people who have made it their mission in life to obstruct new housing.
We are a group of people standing up for housing – often known as YIMBYs (Yes In My Back Yard) or New Urbanists – and we are spreading the word on the benefits of more housing. Advocates have been fighting for more subsidized housing for decades, and now there’s a concerted, grassroots movement in prosperous cities across the country to bring attention to exclusionary zoning and use the market do its part to contribute to a solution. We have strategies to educate and make housing accessible to everyone, and and we are also open to new ideas. We want housing for everyone and to keep people in their homes.
The Housing Problem
There’s a reason that Los Angeles has a housing shortage. A series of racist and anti-immigration laws have influenced our exclusionary zoning and anti-housing laws, creating economic segregation and housing scarcity. Because this issue is so complicated, it’s important to we all work from the SAME SET OF FACTS.
FACT #1: We need to build homes for everyone in Los Angeles. Los Angeles has a housing shortage in the amount of an estimated several hundred thousand missing new units per year. This massive housing shortage makes housing scarce and drives up rents, affecting low-income Angelenos the most.
FACT #2: Density makes housing more affordable in aggregate. Single-family zoning reduces the amount of housing units that can be built in an area, creating scarcity and driving up prices. Additionally, they are more expensive to build and maintain per family. Single-family zoning is thus exclusionary and favors those who own homes and use them as long-term investments. Dense, multi-family housing increases the number of homes available to families and relieves demand pressure on scarce existing housing, which helps make housing more affordable. And importantly, density creates more walkable, environmentally-friendly, diverse, and livable urban spaces.
FACT #3: Density is better for the environment. Building more housing in our city prevents sprawl and decreases the footprint of our city, which in turn preserves natural habitats. Additionally, if an apartment is near mass transit and a walkable neighborhood, renters can forgo a car (17% of renters in LA do not even own cars). This saves approximately $200/month for the parking space (the amortized cost to the builder of building the parking space), and a whopping $700/month on the cost of owning a car. A micro-unit with no parking can rent for $600. This option would be life changing for Angelenos. Low-density sprawl, on the other hand, makes our roads choked with traffic, and means that families looking for affordable places to live are forced to live far away, and commute long distances.
Gamla Stan, Södermalm, Stockholm, Sweden Attribution: Aaron Zhu
So the goal should be to build as much dense multi-family housing as possible. But here’s the rub: it is illegal to do that in the vast majority of Los Angeles and cities across the country because of zoning laws. And if this isn’t bad enough, most zoning laws were created to keep LA racially segregated.
How can I make a difference?
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So if you’re a contractor who wants to build a duplex, a small apartment building, or a garden apartment, you will probably need special permission from the City Council (a zoning variance). This can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and can easily take 3-9 years (even for taxpayer funded affordable units). And at any time, a few anti-housing residents can still completely block the zoning variance. You lose your time, your money, and now you own land that is far less valuable.
The Housing Solution
A group of volunteers with varied backgrounds — housing justice activists, environmentalists, mobility activists and renter advocates — founded Abundant Housing LA (AHLA) to speak up for more housing and better neighborhoods. We have 1,500 active pro-housing individuals across Los Angeles who go to Neighborhood Councils and the Planning Commission meetings to do outreach and education on the benefits of more housing.
We are up against highly organized anti-housing activists who have decades of experience, relationships with politicians, and skin in the game: it’s not hypothetical, they really don’t want new construction near them. Our volunteers are engaging out of passion and a sense of urgency. The standard anti-housing argument is traffic, but sometimes they say the quiet part out loud: they don’t want new housing and especially affordable housing because they don’t want low income people living near them.
Abundant Housing LA’s immediate strategy is to educate the public on the facts of housing. We need to build more units for everyone while protecting people from displacement.
Building more housing is a necessary part of the solution to end soaring rates of displacement. Without enough units to house people in Los Angeles, securing a home becomes a life-or-death issue. We need available homes for people including those who need to move, who currently do not have housing, are rent-insecure, and for younger generations. We need to increase housing production to meet needs, while also creating pro-housing affordability policies to make sure that low-income people are able to find and afford housing. Currently, Los Angeles is failing on all these points. Programs that create and fund affordable housing should be strengthened and expanded, such as supportive housing (e.g. Measure HHH) and the density bonus. AHLA also supports protection for tenants, including Right to Counsel and Right to Remain.
In the longer term, we need a fundamental rethink of the city’s zoning, to make it cheaper and easier to build housing. If every unit is a fight to the death, we will never get there. There is not enough energy, patience, money, or hours in the day to fight each unit at a time. We need to decide that people deserve homes, and then commit to finding the best way to get there.
Some additional background on housing policy:
The racist history of zoning laws (and why no one should embrace them): In order to keep low income renters (who were often people of color) out of affluent white communities, elected officials would zone neighborhoods for single-family homes only – which a poor person couldn’t afford. This was combined with “covenants” that made it illegal to sell to non-white people. This history is terrible enough that we should question these zoning laws.
Why can’t taxpayers just build affordable housing for everyone who needs it? If every single dollar of San Francisco’s annual city budget went to affordable housing, they would build 17% of the need – and they would have literally no city services. AHLA supports programs that increase housing affordability, such as the such as the Transit Oriented Communities density bonus and housing subsidies– and we must utilize the market to solve part of the problem, as it is impossible to meet our housing needs otherwise. Market-rate housing can also raise funds for other essential services for low income Angelenos, families, and marginalized communities – money for education, parks, health care, services for chronically homeless, etc.
What’s the deal with ADUs? An ADU, or “Accessory Dwelling Unit,” is a secondary house or apartment that shares the building lot of a larger, primary house. They’re sometimes known as “granny flats” or “in-law unit”, but really they should be called “Affordable Dwelling Units” — for both renters and homeowners. ADUs are good for renters because they provide an affordable housing option, often in a safe neighborhood with excellent amenities and good schools. ADUs can also help struggling homeowners cover their mortgage. Experts estimate that if ADUs were built behind just 10% of homes, it would mean 50,000 units almost overnight — and at one-tenth the cost of new construction (a garage conversion costs as little as $45,000 versus the average cost of $425,000 to build a new unit.) And there are programs supporting homeowners through the permitting and building process in exchange for a commitment to house someone with a Section 8 voucher. These creative solutions are ways to bring density to wealthier areas that supports lower-income individuals.
What’s the craziest anti-housing story I can share with my friends? A non-profit raised philanthropic dollars to build a small apartment building for homeless veterans. Anti-housing neighbors demanded the non-profit spend $250,000 on traffic study – when none of the future tenants own cars.
Why Density? Dense, multi-family housing buildings allow many families to live on one lot. Density can and should mean walkability – the ability to walk to stores, restaurants and transit, to cut down of car trips (for the environment) and allow people to live without a car. 17% of renters in LA do not own a car – they deserve an affordable housing option near transit that does not incorporate the expense of parking. And this is a win for all Angelenos who care about traffic and the environment.
Amazing things come from density:
- Dense neighborhoods are good for you because walking can prevent obesity and lower rates of heart disease.
- Dense neighborhoods with walkability have lower crime and make cities more democratic.
- Living in a dense neighborhood where people walk and bike lowers depression.
- Dense neighborhoods create walkability and accessibility, which offers more freedom to kids, people without cars, people with disabilities, and seniors.
- Dense neighborhoods and walkability are better for businesses.
- Density and walkability mean less traffic and progress on Vision Zero.
- By creating dense neighborhoods we can address climate change at no cost to tax-payers – because it can instantly take cars off the streets. And it does not require Federal legislation; and it can scale up locally, nationally and even internationally.
- Dense neighborhoods are cheaper for cities: According to Jeff Speck, author of Walkability City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places, when someone drives a car it costs the city $9.20 in services like policing and ambulances because of all the accidents and emergencies. When they walk, it costs the city a penny.
- Done right, dense neighborhoods can attract tourists and create jobs.