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Affordable Housing Issue Raised in L.A. Mayor’s Race

If elected, three of Los Angeles’ leading mayoral candidates will make creating affordable housing one of their top priorities, said City Council members Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry and City Controller Wendy Greuel at a candidates forum last week focused on housing issues.

Economist Raphael Bostic moderated the forum had City Councilmembers Jan Perry, pictured left, Eric Garcetti, center, and City Controller Wendy Greuel, pictured right. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

About 500 people, many with ties to non-profit organizations or the candidates, attended the Mayoral Candidates Forum on Affordable Housing held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, where all three candidates in attendance agreed that the city has an affordable housing shortage and expressed a commitment to do something about it.

Councilwoman Perry said she is a “true believer in affordable housing.” Greuel said she would be the “Housing Mayor of Los Angeles,” and Garcetti vowed, “I will end homelessness in Los Angeles.”

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The Jan. 11 forum presented by the Housing For A Stronger Los Angeles, a coalition of housing industry professionals, was intended to give the public an opportunity to listen to the candidates’ position on affordable housing policy, as well as how they will address the city’s “affordable housing crisis” if elected Los Angeles’ next mayor, said Robin Hughes, Co-Chair of the Housing for a Stronger Los Angeles Steering Committee and president and CEO of Abode Communities, a non-profit affordable housing development company.

Economist Raphael Bostic, of USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, moderated the forum; candidates were given the forum questions in advance of the event.

Other mayoral candidates, including attorney and radio broadcaster Kevin James were excluded from the forum because they had not raised $1 million or met other criteria, Bostic explained.

Tony Salazar, Co-Chair of the Housing for a Stronger Los Angeles Steering Committee and President of McCormack Baron Salazar West Coast Operations, noted the diversity of the individuals in the audience: for- and non-profit developers, banks and equity investors, construction workers, attorneys, concerned citizens, advocates, government agency representatives, social services organizations and foundations.

“It’s the first time such a big, diverse group has come together to fight for a single issue and that’s providing and building more quality, decent and affordable housing for low-income families,” Salazar said. “On this issue, we are all on the same side. Everybody in this group and every organization they represent, we are all collectively together, standing up for the affordable housing industry… creating and maintain such housing takes all of us working together because none of us can do it alone. That’s what we’ve learned, none of us can do it alone.”

Explaining the context for the forum, Bostic said Los Angeles has some of the steepest rental rates in the county. He said the foreclosure crisis has added many new renters to the market, which has pushed rental rates up. At the same time, he added, while rents went up by about 20 percent, income levels in the last few years have actually declined by 4 to 5 percent.

“In many markets in the United States, the problem with affordability is one that is a demand-side issue, people don’t have enough income and if they don’t have enough income, they can’t pay enough rent. In Los Angeles, it’s also a supply issue…” Bostic said.

While building more affordable housing would address the issue of supply, funding sources are becoming less available. Since 2008, public funding sources for affordable housing have dropped by $72 million, Hughes said.

During the forum, all three candidates supported restoring the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) to $100,000 million. The fund was established in 2000 in order to create affordable rental housing for low- and very low-income households through loans for new construction or for the rehabilitation of existing residential structures, according to the Los Angeles Housing Department website.

All three candidates also drew from pervious experiences and gave examples of projects or capacities where they supported the creation of affordable housing. Both Garcetti and Perry gave numerous examples of new and refurbished housing in their districts, while Greuel highlighted her work as a former federal housing administrator and as an aide to former Mayor Tom Bradley on the issues of housing and homelessness.

Perry, Garcetti and Greuel also answered questions about creating more housing along new transportation corridors and helping families who are foreclosed on.

Attendees like Guadalupe Gonzalez, housing organizer for Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, found the forum very engaging. Gonzalez, however, declined to point out which candidate was most impressive on the topic, stating her organization has not yet endorsed a candidate in the March election.

Abode Communities also has not endorsed a candidate, Hughes said. Abode is responsible for the recently constructed Rio Vista Apartments in Glassell Park, as well as Bell Gardens’ new senior apartments Tierra Bella that will complete construction in the upcoming months.

Hughes told EGP affordable housing developers like Abode depend on federal and state subsidies to finance the majority of project costs, the other 15 to 25 percent of project costs are private loans. Housing subsidies allow developers to charge rents that are affordable to families who earn 30-60 percent of the median income, she said.

While inflation is an issue in Los Angeles, the primary issue is supply, “How do we create more housing?” Hughes told EGP.

A video of the complete forum filmed by Barbara Pressman Public Relations can be seen at http://www.barbarapressmanpr.com/index.php/press/hfasla-forum