LAUSD apartment saga exposes workforce housing gap

The Sage Park affordable apartments in Gardena (Credit: Archinect)
The Sage Park affordable apartments in Gardena (Credit: Archinect)

A decade ago, the Los Angeles Unified School District had an idea: To mitigate the high teacher turnover rate, the district would take care of teacher’s rent burden by building them affordable housing through federal subsidies.

Two below-market complexes later, not a single LAUSD teacher lives in the 156 apartments in Gardena and Hollywood, the Los Angeles Times reported. Instead, more than 77 percent of the units house district service workers: bus drivers, special education assistants and cafeteria employees.

It turns out that teachers make too much money to qualify for affordable units.

Federal guidelines restrict low-income units to those who earn between 30 percent to 60 percent of the area median income. In Hollywood, then, an applicant for a one-bedroom apartment cannot earn more than $34,860 a year — that’s about $15,000 below what a starting teacher makes, but right in line with the salaries of the district’s lowest-paid staff.

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Teachers fall into what some housing advocates call “the missing middle,” earning too much to qualify for low-cost housing but too little to afford the new market-rate units.

Last year, Bobby Turner, the former CEO of Canyon Capital Realty Advisors, announced a $1 billion venture to acquire properties that fill that void in the middle of the market — housing for those making 80 percent of the median household income.

“Workforce housing is an overlooked segment of the real estate market with a significant mismatch in supply and demand that we believe offers a compelling investment opportunity,” Turner said in June 2015 interview with the Los Angeles Business Journal.

He has since collected properties in Maryland, Florida, Texas and Nevada, and has tapped Eva Longoria to be the spokesperson for the Turner Impact Capital housing fund. Its unclear whether he has been able to acquire such properties in Los Angeles. [LAT]Cathaleen Chen