Ballot proposal would require L.A. developers to provide affordable housing

A coalition of labor unions and housing advocates unveiled a ballot proposal Wednesday that would force real estate developers in Los Angeles to provide affordable housing when seeking city approval for residential projects that are larger than planning rules allow.

The proposal, submitted to the city clerk by the L.A. County Federation of Labor and an array of activists, would place new and potentially costly requirements on development projects that would require waivers from existing planning and zoning rules, such as those that limit building height or density.

The measure, which is being targeted for the Nov. 8 ballot, would also seek to ensure that a percentage of construction jobs at key projects go to local or disadvantaged residents, backers say.

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Rusty Hicks, the labor federation’s executive secretary-treasurer, called the ballot proposal “a bold alternative to address the affordable housing and good-jobs crisis in our neighborhoods.”

If voters pass the measure, “we'll be able to close the gap on Angelenos getting priced out of their homes and facing poverty,” Hicks said in a statement.

The proposal, backed by a group called the Build Better L.A. Coalition, would give developers options for providing the required affordable housing, including building it nearby or paying fees to the city.

The union measure is the second to take aim at large-scale residential projects in L.A.

Three months ago, a coalition led by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation submitted a ballot proposal to place new restrictions on what it called real estate “mega projects.” That proposal, also targeting the November ballot, would impose a two-year moratorium on certain developments and limit the Los Angeles City Council’s ability to change planning and zoning rules for individual projects.

The Coalition to Preserve L.A., which is currently gathering signatures for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation measure, called the union proposal a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“This plan will give developers new incentives to super-size their projects,” said coalition spokeswoman Jill Stewart. “This plan can be expected to saddle Los Angeles residents with more traffic misery, more concrete, more congestion, more noise and more air pollution — all in all, a diminished quality of life.”

Business and union leaders, who have worked in tandem to denounce the AIDS Healthcare Foundation plan, could be at odds over the newer ballot proposal.

Ruben Gonzalez, senior advisor for strategic affairs with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said his group was focused on creating “more housing units, more affordable housing units, more and better jobs.”

“On its face, this new initiative will not meet these goals and [will] make it harder to reach them,” he said.

Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the Central City Assn., said the union proposal would distract attention from the fight against the AIDS Healthcare Foundation measure and ultimately lead to job losses.

“They’re cutting off their nose to spite their face,” said Schatz, referring to backers of the union coalition measure.

The coalition announced its campaign as the city grapples with rising rents and increased homelessness. Alexandra Suh, executive director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance and a backer of the new measure, said the union coalition proposal would address that crisis.

“By creating a path that will enable development to continue with affordable housing and good jobs, we think this will be a win for the city,” Suh said.

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