Los Angeles has failed to build enough housing to meet needs, and is falling further behind every year. Due to limitations on housing construction including a lack of zoned capacity, parking requirements, lengthy and complex approval processes, and neighborhood “Not in My Backyard” resistance, homebuilding doesn’t happen enough.
The pandemic and the 2020 recession make the housing crisis even more pressing. On top of high costs, housing scarcity, and homelessness, the pandemic has threatened people’s ability to pay rent and stay in their homes. And as people shelter-in-place to avoid COVID-19, the injustice of our housing crisis, which does not provide homes for everyone, is more clear than ever.
Even pre-pandemic, the median rent price for a one-bedroom apartment in L.A. County is $1,360.00. Nearly half of LA County residents are rent-burdened. 600,000 people in Los Angeles contribute at least 90% of their income to rent each month. Long-time residents are forced to leave to find affordable housing, pushing them into mega-commutes or forcing them to move to entirely new regions. Low-income people and people of color are disproportionately impacted, meaning that our neighborhoods are losing their diversity.
Despite historic funding for supportive housing from both the city and county, homelessness continues to grow rapidly, up 12% in 2019 in Los Angeles County. People are dying from this housing crisis. In 2018, 918 people died from homelessness. Homes are needed to end this homelessness crisis. More than ¾ of unhoused people just need an affordable place to live.
The truth of our existing land use policies is that they have their roots in segregation. Single family zoning is the product of a racist and exclusionary history. Cities that used explicit segregationist tools to ban people of color from communities, such as restrictive covenants and redlining, had to move to other methods as laws changed. Single family zoning, which made housing more expensive and therefore more exclusive in neighborhoods, effectively achieved the same purposes as segregation. In Los Angeles, the outlines of single family neighborhoods closely mirror historic redlining. Single family neighborhoods also are associated with whiter and wealthier demographics.
Abundant Housing LA believes in centering equity and racial justice within our work, and ending single family zoning and opening up exclusionary communities is a major focus of our advocacy. That is why, last year, we released our policy agenda with a holistic housing approach. We laid out policies supporting zoning reform, streamlining, funding for affordable housing, innovation in construction, and renters’ rights. While the policies that help create housing abundance– especially zoning and land use reform–remain our primary focus, we work with and recognize leaders in affordable housing and renters’ rights.
In the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it’s important that we revisit our policy agenda, especially in the context of racial justice and equity.
1 Plan & Zone for More Homes
Planning and zoning for more homes means making sure that everyone can have access to a home they can afford, that meets their needs, where they want to live. Only by building more housing can we achieve this goal for people of all backgrounds and needs. Existing exclusionary zoning and land use policies exclude people, and are historically rooted in racial and economic segregation. AHLA believes in equity and racial justice as a core part of WHERE and HOW we upzone–that is why we support housing distribution plans that concentrate housing objectively in high-opportunity, job-rich, and transit-served neighborhoods. Our FAIR Plan, the first intra-city RHNA distribution plan to ever be proposed, embodies this philosophy. Land use and zoning policies can also help equitably provide access for people at all income levels to transit, since car-dependence serves to economically disadvantage people of lower incomes.
2. Make it easier to build homes
Making it easier, cheaper, and faster to build homes brings down the cost of homes, which allows more people to find housing they need. As a part of this policy platform, we believe that costs should be even further reduced for subsidized affordable housing and supportive housing, which serves lower-income families and those that are unhoused. AHLA also wants to address unnecessary housing burdens which exist to privilege wealthier, whiter, and homeowner groups, and advocate for processes which fairly represent people of all backgrounds. These include CEQA, which is often abused for exclusionary purposes, Article 34, which was motivated in racist and classist exclusion of public housing, and other planning appeals processes that we have personally seen used to give a platform to those who only want to spew racist hate against those that will live in new housing.
3. Raise money for affordable homes
We know that the market cannot, by itself, adequately the needs of all, including low-income people. In other words, we do not support the trickle-down housing model. We advocate for aggressive and creative solutions for funding affordable housing. Making sure that everyone has housing they can afford, regardless of their income or background, is an essential responsibility of all governments, and they must find the funding to achieve this. We support funding mechanisms that promote overall housing growth and environmental sustainability, like reducing parking minimums and density bonuses. Housing policies that penalize new residents, or discourage them, are fundamentally anti-equity.
4. Protect tenants
Housing production must be paired with housing security and the protection of tenants’ rights. To achieve this, we actively promote pro-tenant advocacy and support leaders in tenants’ advocacy, including the right to counsel, right to remain, demolition protections, 1-1 replacement of rent-controlled housing, and right of first refusal. Tenants must be protected from discrimination and unjust evictions in order to achieve an equitable housing situation.
5. Encourage innovation in housing design, construction, and planning
To build housing for all, housing costs must be reduced. Outdated building codes and land use requirements that make it hard to build housing creates inequity in who gets housing and who can afford it. It makes our cities closed and furthers segregation. To address this, we propose housing policies that encourage innovation in design, construction, and planning, to make more housing available to everyone.
Even though Abundant Housing LA’s focus is on policies that achieve housing abundance, we want to recognize the intersectional and holistic nature of housing work. Transit, the environment, and racial justice all have to be a part of the solution. Importantly, so many other organizations are contributing to this important work in their own ways, and we hope to support the work of environmental, equity, and renters’ rights organizations as a part of the larger solution.