Article Launched: 09/27/2008 10:41:50 PM PDT
With Los Angeles mired in a foreclosure and affordable housing crisis, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has created a five-year, $5 billion plan to help develop and preserve 20,000 units of reasonably priced housing for low-income and middle-class residents.
Developed by managers of the city's housing, planning and redevelopment agencies, the plan includes existing city initiatives and some new, controversial proposals, including requiring developers to include low-income units in new projects.
The goal is to stimulate the construction of more publicly and privately funded housing for families earning less than $90,000 a year.
"As a city, for 20 years we have known what the problem is and we haven't solved it," Deputy Mayor Helmi Hisserich said. "We have the highest number of homeless. We have the highest number of households paying more than half their income (on housing) in the country. We have a huge amount of overcrowding.
"All of those problems are a symptom of not producing enough middle-income housing."
Villaraigosa's plan relies on $1 billion in local, state and federal dollars that the city would leverage with $4 billion in state bond money, tax credits, grants and private sector involvement.
But it comes as the nation's financial markets are in turmoil and housing development has slowed dramatically, raising questions of whether private dollars will be available to build homes in L.A.
Hisserich said the city might have to revise portions of the plan as a result of the financial market fallout, but Los Angeles shouldn't wait to enact new policies that will create more affordable housing in the long run.
"Without a plan, without knowing where we want to go, we're all over the map," she said.
And that's been L.A.'s problem for the last few decades. City agencies didn't communicate. City leaders didn't plan where they wanted housing to be built and what it should look like. And public housing money wasn't used efficiently to create the most affordable housing in the most needed locations.
"This (plan) is a very serious effort to put out some goals," said Beth Steckler of Housing L.A., a coalition of community groups and affordable housing advocates.
"What's new and different is that they're saying, `We're going to try and do this number of units, with these funding sources.' And we can come back and say, `Did you do this?"'
The plan resurrects a controversial proposal to require developers to include affordable housing in their new projects. Now, developers who volunteer to include affordable units can build more densely, with fewer parking spaces or less open space.
Now it's time to make the inclusion of affordable housing mandatory, Hisserich said.
"It's not a choice," she said. "We've been making it a choice and no one is choosing it."
However, she added, the so-called mixed-income policy would be more flexible.
So if developers choose not to include affordable units in the building, they will be required to pay cash, provide land or partner with affordable housing developers to create the low-income units elsewhere in the same community.
Still, some community leaders are skeptical a mixed-income policy will result in more affordable housing in the communities that need it - especially if developers are able to just pay an affordable housing fee. And the policy could make it more expensive to develop in Los Angeles and could slow redevelopment of communities that want economic development.
"Any city can write any policy, but the marketplace is going to make these decisions," said Doug Epperhart of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council.
"The unintended consequence may be that you have developers coming to the city and saying, `We want to build some luxury condos. How big a check do we need to write to do this?' The city may end up sitting on a bunch of money."
HOUSING PLAN HIGHLIGHTS
Five years and $5 billion to build and preserve 20,000 units of affordable housing.
Require mixed-income housing. All new developments above a certain size would have to include low-income units, pay an affordable housing fee or provide affordable housing in the project vicinity.
Create an Office of Neighborhood Stabilization to acquire, rehabilitate and resell foreclosed homes in hardest-hit areas.
Plan transit districts that include affordable housing around 20 subway, light-rail and rapid-transit stops.
Fund and build 2,200 units of permanent supportive housing that provides long-term housing and social services to keep the chronically homeless off the streets.
Use public and private dollars to redevelop public housing projects into new communities of affordable rental and for-sale homes.