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L.A. group unveils affordable-housing plan with perks for builders

A coalition of Los Angeles business groups put forward an affordable-housing plan Thursday that its leaders said would lead to more apartments and condos for working people without imposing restrictions that could cast a pall over entrepreneurial efforts.

Its centerpiece is a network of “housing incentive zones” where developers building housing with at least some workforce units would be allowed to relax height and parking requirements and receive expedited approvals.

The plan also calls for giving increased benefits to neighborhoods that accept higher density, in the form of sidewalk repairs, park expansions or other improvements. And it calls for building housing on industrial land and surplus city property.

Carol Schatz, president of the coalition, Central City Assn., said she would like policymakers to consider these and other recommendations as they fashion the city’s so-called mixed-income housing policy, in which affordable housing could be required as part of new developments.

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A mixed-income policy, already a requirement in dozens of other California cities, is a centerpiece of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s housing plan, which he introduced last fall.

City officials are scheduled to hold public hearings on his plan beginning next week.

Under pressure from labor and community groups, a majority of City Council members have pledged their support for a mixed-income policy. But business groups are worried that it could include elements that would discourage new construction.

“If the requirements are too onerous, then developers cannot afford to build the project at all,” said Schatz, whose coalition includes the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the building industry and the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn.

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Schatz said the group is proposing that policymakers strike a balance between requirements and incentives.

Councilwoman Jan Perry attended Schatz’s City Hall news conference and pledged to introduce laws to enact some of the proposals.

But many housing advocates were scornful, saying the plans would do little to increase the supply of housing for poor, working and middle-class people, such as secretaries, nurses and teachers, who increasingly have been priced out of many areas of Los Angeles.

“This report is totally out of touch with the problems facing most working people in Los Angeles,” said Peter Dreier, director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Program at Occidental College and a long-standing advocate of affordable housing.

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He called the plan “a diversionary tactic” and said the proposals do not “address the central problem facing housing in Los Angeles, which is that the business climate is being hurt by the shortage of affordable housing for the bottom two-thirds of the workforce, families making less than $60,000 to $70,000 a year.”

Officials in the mayor’s office were more positive. Helmi Hisserich, deputy mayor for housing and economic development policy, said she liked the idea of housing incentive zones, saying they could create a “broad spectrum” of housing throughout the city, which could cut down on traffic by enabling more people to work closer to home.

But she agreed that the plan did little to address the housing needs of poor and working people.

“We’d like to see the private sector tackle some lower-income housing challenges too,” she said.

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com


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