Will 2015 be the year that Los Angeles finally gets serious about building housing for its homeless and poorest residents? The L.A. metropolitan area has long been one of the most expensive urban areas in the nation, but the housing challenge has now turned into a crisis. Housing prices have grown four times faster than incomes since 2000, and half of all households in the region spend more than the recommended 30% of their income on rent or mortgage payments, leaving less money for food, healthcare, transportation and savings. The high cost of housing is one reason homelessness in the city and county has grown 12% during the last two years.
City and county leaders have talked a lot about the housing crisis over the years, but in recent weeks they finally offered a series of proposals to set aside more money to construct affordable apartments and to make it easier for developers to build them.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved a proposal to set aside $20 million next year, with a goal of reaching $100 million a year by 2020, to build apartments for low-income tenants and homeless people who need supportive services, as well as to preserve existing low-rent apartments that are scheduled to switch to market-rate rents.
And last week, Mayor Eric Garcetti said he would study and ultimately propose the city's first-ever fee on developers to fund affordable housing. A fee on commercial and residential development could generate between $37 million and $112 million a year, according to a previous study. That could boost the city's nearly depleted Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which is designed to help fund the construction of rent-reduced apartments and permanent supportive housing development.
And Councilman Gil Cedillo, who heads the City Council's Housing Committee, has introduced half a dozen motions to make it faster and cheaper to build both market-rate and affordable housing projects.
This is a good start, but the real question is whether L.A.'s political leaders are committed to following through and turning their promises into lasting public policies. We've been here before. Every few years, elected officials declare a crisis in homelessness or housing and pledge to spend millions of dollars or to pass new laws to address the chronic shortage of affordable homes. But then reality hits — developers oppose the proposed new mandates or fees to fund low-income housing; homeowner groups oppose the higher density that might make mixed-income housing projects pencil out, and promised public funding dries up or gets diverted to new crises.
The fact is, these are hard, complicated choices. Will dedicating tight taxpayer dollars to affordable housing leave less money for other worthy causes? Will fees or mandates on development slow the pace of housing construction or make housing more expensive for the middle class?
But L.A.'s political leaders shouldn't put off these hard choices any longer. This is an opportunity to enact long-term policies that could address one the region's biggest challenges. Mayor, City Council, Board of Supervisors: Don't let this moment pass.