Op-Ed: Measure S is a formula for unaffordable housing

Housing in Los Angeles is unaffordable, and there isn’t enough of it. Yet a severely misguided ballot proposition, Measure S, threatens to put affordable housing out of reach for more Angelenos. In short, it would exacerbate the imbalance between supply and demand.

Measure S is based on a false premise: If you don’t build it, they won’t come. But new residents are coming. For each year since 1990, L.A.’s population has grown, on average, 19.6% faster than its housing supply, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Working families already are suffering from decades of underbuilding. From 1980 to 2010, Los Angeles County built about one-third of the housing units needed to meet population demand. As a result, the rental vacancy rate is now under 3%, the fourth-lowest in the country and a major contributor to rapidly rising rents here. A third of L.A. renters spend half or more of their incomes on housing — the second-highest percentage in the country.


Measure S substitutes slogans about “neighborhood character” for solutions to our housing shortage. The language of the initiative betrays its exclusionary goals, referring to an “adverse impact on health and safety” allegedly posed by multifamily housing. Our city needs more housing in every price range. Neighborhoods need the flexibility to evaluate each project on its own merits.

My office has identified areas for improvement. We need a better mix of incentives to encourage smart development to build more affordable units allowed under the city’s density bonus program. In November, voters approved a bond measure to build 10,000 housing units for homeless Angelenos. My office has identified opportunities for some city-owned land to be used for the construction of low-income, moderate-income and homeless housing, as part of my PropertyPanel LA mapping initiative. Yet Measure S would ban housing opportunities on these sites.

Measure S also would reverse the local construction industry’s recovery. About 223,000 people, the highest number since 2008, now work in construction in metro L.A., with wages higher than the average for all other industries, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. Another recent economic study concluded that the ballot measure’s limits on development would cost L.A. about 12,000 jobs in just its first year.

As a matter of economics, neighborhood livability and common sense, Measure S is poor public policy. Rejecting this overly broad moratorium will allow L.A. to begin solving its very real challenges. It’s as simple as supply and demand.

Ron Galperin is the Los Angeles city controller.

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