Housing Construction Skyline

The “Housing Advocate” is a bi-weekly collection of news stories and content related to the housing crisis here in Los Angeles. If you missed last week’s post, it can be found here

Welcome to Abundant Housing’s “The Housing Advocate!” These are some key stories that the AHLA Community has found relevant to the conversation among housing advocates at the moment. Here are the stories we found important this week:

1) Denny Zane

Former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane recently made a stir with an interview with “The Planning Report” where he expressed skepticism about the YIMBY movement and many of our goals at Abundant Housing. While we appreciate Mr. Zane’s contribution to the discussion, especially about the need for continued investment in transit and in affordable housing, we also disagreed with some of the points he made. We wanted to take the time to craft a full response here.

Our response focused on two main disagreements we had with Zane’s article: 1) We think Zane significantly discounts the power that key reforms could have on LA’s housing market. We believe ending single-family zoning, and creating room for new homes near transit through zoning, can be a really powerful tool. 2) We think Zane puts too much faith in the ability of “local control” of zoning and housing production to solve the housing crisis. We believe an examination of what has worked in other cities will show that the state needs to play a role if we are going to truly build housing for all.

2) How to Build on TOC

AHLA contributor Anthony Dedousis continued with part 2 of his excellent series on the Transit-Oriented Communities (TOC) program here in Los Angeles, which is successfully building new and affordable housing near Transit. While in Part 1, Anthony took a look at how TOC is working successfully, having built 12,300 apartments, 2,300 of which are affordable to low-income tenants. In Part 2, Anthony looks at how we can build off of the momentum generated by TOC by doing 3 things:

  1. Allowing TOC to extend to land near transit that is restricted to single-family homes
  2. Making land near high-frequency bus lines eligible for TOC
  3. Speed up inspections and permitting for TOC Projects

We hope that these suggestions can play an important role in equitably addressing the housing crisis faced by people of all income levels. Stay tuned to our blog for the next installment in this series!

3) Abundant Housing’s SCAG OP-ED

This morning, our managing director Leonora Camner published an op-ed in the LA Times highlighting the issues with the ways the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is trying to use the regional housing needs assessment (RHNA) to push new housing outside of productive job centers, and onto the fringes our region. We believe that this is a betrayal of the intention of the RHNA process: to hold cities accountable to create housing that works for all residents, and instead, is driven by the narrow interest of cities and wealthy NIMBYs. Planning for all the new housing in cities like Coachella and Riverside will supercharge all the trends people hate in LA: the terrible traffic, the failure to address climate change, and most of all, the crisis of housing affordability for low-income residents

4) Death by a Thousand Oligopolies

The Washington Post had a great article this past week about a hidden force that is driving up housing costs: concentration in the building industry. The article found that since 2000, the percentage of homes built by the largest 20 builders has risen from 17% to 31%. What was really telling in the article was how the concentration of builders is largely coming in response to the same factors that are making housing unaffordable on multiple fronts:

“To be sure, industry experts note that the creeping oligopolies that have come to define the housing market are often a symptom of deeper problems with scarcity of land, cost of labor, restrictive zoning, NIMBYISM (also known as not-in-my-backyardism) and the financial markets.”

The article cites the limited supply of land in big cities and overly-complex regulations as factors that create a competitive advantage for large builders. These builders can use their financial assets to speculate on properties for years, while also using relationships with city officials to cut deals to build. We believe it’s clear we can undermine the concentrated power of builders, and see more competition in Los Angeles by 1) Planning and zoning for more homes 2) Making it easier to build homes, and 3) Encouraging innovation in home building, 

5) Gavin Newsom and Facebook

LA Times reporter Liam Dillon asked the question this week: has California governor Gavin Newsom been successful in fulfilling his housing promises? To be sure, many important housing bills were passed this year, doing everything from renter protections to allowing ADUs, to preventing downzoning. But given Newsom bold promises to build 3.5 Million homes, and his failure to support SB 50 or follow through on his plan to tie state transportation dollars to housing, has there been enough action?

Meanwhile, Facebook, one of the many Tech companies often blamed for contributing to the housing crisis, pledged to donate one billion dollars towards affordable housing. We applaud Facebook and other companies who are embracing their role in helping to solve this crisis, which is truly an “all hands on deck” issue for our state. It is also important to recognize, that given the size and scope of this crisis, that we need our state to take on big and bold reforms on the scale that individual companies cannot.

That’s all for this week. Come back in two weeks for another update!