LA leaves out 72% of the city in plan to build 457K homes by 2029

Housing update doesn’t include neighborhoods zoned for single-family houses

LA leaves out 72% of city in plan to build 457K homes
Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing's Tiffany Spring, Inner City Law Center's Mahdi Manji and Mayor Karen Bass (LinkedIn, Getty)

Los Angeles plans to update its state-mandated plan on the location of nearly 457,000 new homes. The catch: it wants to squeeze them into just a quarter of the 469-square-mile city.

The city’s new Housing Element update leaves out 72 percent of its residential neighborhoods — or areas zoned for single-family homes, Bisnow reported. 

Now a coalition made up of dozens of housing advocates want the city to open up more single-family neighborhoods for multifamily development.

And that would be done by rezoning the city during the Housing Element update process. The city expects to hold a public hearing about the housing plan this summer at an unspecified date.

“It’s going to be complex, and I think it’s a fight worth fighting,” Tiffany Spring, public policy manager for the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing, told Bisnow. “We cannot solve the housing crisis, the affordable housing crisis or the homelessness crisis unless we can, at a baseline, change the way that zoning works.” 

Los Angeles has acknowledged the tension between single-family and apartment zones.

The wide split between single-family and multifamily zoning has created “clear disparities in housing access,” the city Planning Department has said, putting a velvet rope in front of areas with the highest concentrations of jobs, public transit access and top schools that keeps more affordable forms of housing out. 

But after public feedback last year and “direction” from the City Council, the Planning Department has done an about-face, according to Bisnow. 

Single-family zones are not eligible for planned affordable housing incentives, with some exceptions for projects proposed by and on land owned by religious groups.

Neighborhoods lined with houses are also left out of a transit-focused incentive package for affordable housing, the Planning Department said last fall.

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In a letter to the department, the Inner City Law Center and 40 other signatories expressed concerns about the city’s plan for future housing.

Adding more incentives to commercial areas or parts of the city where apartments are already allowed won’t help the city meet its required housing goal set by the state, the letter said.

Los Angeles needs to plan for more than 456,643 new homes by 2029, according to the California Regional Housing Needs Assessment, five times as many as the 83,865 homes built from 2010 to 2019. Of that, the city must plan to build 184,721 affordable housing units for very low- and low-income households. 

By keeping single-family zones walled off to other types of housing and encouraging new apartments where they’re already allowed, Los Angeles is promoting “displacement of rent-controlled tenants while reinforcing existing segregationist patterns,” the advocates said.

It’s frustrating to see homeowners’ interests prioritized in a city where 64 percent of residents are renters, Mahdi Manji, director of public policy for the Inner City Law Center, told Bisnow.

“You’re saying the rights of these homeowners to live in a single-family home is more important than the rights of people to live in a home at all,” Manji said. 

Developers who spoke with Bisnow agreed that making more land open to multifamily projects would remove one hurdle to build more housing. But other barriers remain, including higher interest rates and construction costs, flat rents and Measure ULA, the city’s so-called mansion tax.

Building apartments is already a challenge — even where it’s allowed. At least one developer pointed to slow project approvals, pushback from neighbors and state regulations used to delay or derail development.

“I do think, sometimes, the discussion of single-family zoning versus multifamily zoning is a little bit of a red herring,” Cityview CEO Sean Burton told Bisnow. “Making more land available wouldn’t hurt, but it’s not a panacea.” 

— Dana Bartholomew

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