Home Is Where the Health Is – How Cities and States Can Address the Affordable Housing Crisis

January 26, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Housing affordability is a pressing issue for communities across the United States, with roughly 39 million U.S. households—including nearly half of all renters and 1 in 4 homeowners—struggling to afford their housing. Accessible, safe, and quality homes form the foundation of health and well-being for every household, yet the rising cost of housing is making it increasingly difficult for many U.S. residents to keep a stable roof over their heads while meeting basic needs such as water, groceries, health care, and transportation.

While the national housing market has, by most accounts, rebounded, the gains made have disproportionately benefited higher-income households. For residents of modest and limited means, wages and housing subsidies have failed to keep pace with rising rental costs. These costs are consuming a larger share of these residents’ disposable income and savings, increasing household insecurity and deepening existing socio-economic inequality and segregation.

Despite its importance, the supply of affordable housing remains in dire straits: While the need for aid rises, existing rental stock is aging and federal housing assistance continues to stagnate. Today, only 1 in 5 eligible families in need of rental assistance actually receives it, due in large part to insufficient federal funding. Extremely low-income (ELI) households, who represent more than 25 percent of all U.S. renters, face a 7.4 million unit shortage in affordable housing, meaning that there are currently only 35 units available to rent for every 100 ELI households nationwide. Equally alarming, the overall number of housing units subsidized by federal home loan mortgage corporation Freddie Mac has decreased more than 60 percent since 2010, while private-sector investments remain inadequate. And without meaningful action at all levels of government, the ever-shrinking, already deficient national affordable housing stock risks losing many more units over the next 10 years due to maintenance neglect—thereby becoming uninhabitable—or from conversion into market-rate housing once their federally required affordability period expires.

During the Obama administration, several executive actions were taken to meaningfully reduce residential segregation and ensure that financially struggling households are not confined to living in regions with high concentrations of poverty and low rates of opportunity. President Donald Trump not only is seeking to roll back these fair housing rules, but he also is aiming to slash funding for vital housing assistance programs. The truth of the matter is that federal resources and efforts have rarely if ever been able to meet the need for affordable housing—something that seems even less likely, let alone desired, under the current administration and Congress.

Throughout this long-standing crisis, state and local governments have stepped up to fill the affordable housing void left by the federal government, with many doing everything within their means not only to preserve and improve existing fair, affordable housing stock but also to find innovative ways to increase it. Although the Center for American Progress does not necessarily endorse every aspect of what the following states and localities have done, below are some notable examples of approaches that creatively and meaningfully combat homelessness and the ballooning housing affordability crisis.

California

Although the state boasts a mighty, vibrant economy—the fifth largest in the world—approximately 1 in 6 Californians are living in poverty, and homelessness is rapidly rising and spreading throughout the state, with more than half of residents burdened by the cost of their housing. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law a comprehensive suite of bills to help tackle the state’s deepening inequality and housing crisis. The legislative package establishes permanent funding sources for the creation and preservation of affordable housing by applying a small minimum recordation fee of $75 on all market-rate real estate transactions, which will raise roughly $250 million in annual funding for anti-homelessness, local planning, and other housing assistance services. Additionally, the housing package places on the upcoming November general election ballot a $4 billion bond initiative to fund current programs that finance the rehabilitation and construction of affordable homes and rental units, as well as increase funding for existing assistance programs that help veterans, farmworkers, and low-income households secure housing.

At the local level, the legislative package seeks to incentivize counties and cities to streamline their planning, review, and approval processes to simplify and accelerate housing development. The legislation also deters local public policies and actions that would make it difficult to develop fair, affordable housing within communities, through increased evidentiary standards and burden-of-proof requirements, as well as strengthened monitoring and enforcement.

For the sole purpose of preventing and fighting homelessness, Los Angeles County recently approved a spending measure—projected to raise $355 million annually over a period of 10 years—to fund rental subsidies and supportive services and improve the county’s shelter system. This effort built on the county’s establishment of the Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool (FHSP) in 2013, an innovative, now $40 million local rental subsidy program designed to secure quality affordable housing and provide intensive case management supports to county residents who are experiencing homelessness and have physical and behavioral health needs.

Conclusion

Stable, supportive, and accessible housing is a core building block of a quality of life that enables individuals and families to pursue the American dream. The rising housing affordability crisis tears at the very fabric of this national ethos, forcing far too many households to defer individual pursuit as they struggle to afford rent while covering basic living needs. If the current trend continues, the disparity between the need for and the supply of accessible, affordable housing will worsen.

It is important to take note of—and accountability for—this rising inequality, exacerbated by recently proposed and enacted public policies and regulatory rollbacks that threaten the nation’s opportunity to ensure fair, quality housing for all residents. At a time of retrenched federal support, communities are increasingly looking to their state and local governments to address this rapidly growing need. As a result, it is important for localities to ensure that they are not serving as purveyors of the nation’s deepening inequity. Instead, they should be leveling the playing field by looking within and to one another for creative ways to preserve and expand inclusive, affordable housing.

 

Rejane Frederick is an associate director for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. The material was created by the Center for American Progress.

Plan to Build ‘Affordable’ Housing on City-Owned Parking Lots Gains Steam

December 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Parking spots are a valuable commodity in the City of Los Angeles.

The threat of losing even a few parking spaces can lead to panic in densely populated neighborhoods where places to park a vehicle are in short supply. It’s an issue for businesses too, since many rely on publicly owned parking lots for their customers, not having parking lots of their own.

In the City of Los Angeles, elected officials have been actively identifying “under-utilized” city-owned properties – including parking lots – as potential sites for new affordable housing developments. It’s part of a plan to shore up the city’s critical housing shortage and to keep more people from falling in to homelessness.

Last week, the City Council  approved a plan to charge developers a new fee to build in the city. Council members say revenue from the new “linkage” fee will be used to build more housing units for low- to middle-income families.

As city officials, housing advocates, developers and the business community debated the viability and impact the fee would have on development, local council offices and city planners were busy in the background cataloguing city-owned properties with the expressed purpose of adding to the city’s affordable housing stock.

City-owned parking lot on Avenue 24 near the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center is one of 5 lots in Lincoln Heights the city is vetting as potential sites to build affordable housing. (Photo by B. Preciado)

City-owned parking lot on Avenue 24 near the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center is one of 5 lots in Lincoln Heights the city is vetting as potential sites to build affordable housing. (Photo by B. Preciado)

They are also looking for properties where housing for the homeless can be built.

In Council Districts 1 and 14, some of the sites being vetted are vacant lots; others are public parking lots.

Over the last two weeks the City Council has taken steps to formalize the public review process, approving motions by Councilmen Gil Cedillo (CD-1) and Jose Huizar (CD-14) for city-owned properties in Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights, near downtown L.A., in the Westlake area adjacent to MacArthur Park and in Lincoln Heights.

Requests for Proposals for teams to lead the public review, property acquisition agreements, approval of development teams, and the transfer of a property in Boyle Heights to a nonprofit that will use the site to house 18-24-year-old homeless college students are some of the measures that have been approved.

Huizar says he’s “thrilled” to be moving forward with “projects to better assist our homeless youth in Boyle Heights and provide much-needed affordable housing in the district.” He was referring to the transfer of a “triangle” shaped property on Pleasant Avenue in Boyle Heights to nonprofit Jovenes, Inc.

According to Huizar, city-owned properties offer “unique opportunities to develop land for homeless and affordable housing more quickly without the cost of land acquisition.”

Two public parking lots in Boyle Heights – on 318 N. Breed St. and 249 N. Chicago St. – have been identified as potential affordable housing sites. A vacant lot at the intersection of Genevieve Avenue and Monte Bonito Drive in Eagle Rock is also being looked at.

Cedillo also sees developing city-owned properties as a plus. He said: “The solution to combat the Housing Crisis in Los Angeles is to continue building housing as fast as possible, particularly affordable housing.”

Because parking is such a premium in the city, the possibility of loosing any spaces can be controversial and has been known to stop or at least delay some developments. Plans build housing on public parking lots near the Metro Gold Line Station in Highland Park drew loud criticism from local residents and businesses not only concerned about the added density and traffic, but also access to city-owned parking lots.

City planners and the development team for the project said one of the larger lots, off Avenue 58 between the Gold Line Station on Marmion Way and Figueroa Street, was under-utilized and often nearly empty. Developers, Cedillo, and his predecessor, former Councilman Ed Reyes, worked hard to convince stakeholders that the new developments would be required to include public parking provisions.

As for the parking lots under review in Boyle Heights, Huizar assures that any public parking taken for housing developments will be replaced. Where, or in what manner, will not be clear until when and if a development design is approved.

In Lincoln Heights, Cedillo’s office has targeted five city-owned parking lots for review. All five are near the neighborhood’s central commercial district along North Broadway: located behind or across from businesses such as CVS, the 99 Cents Only Store, WSS Shoes, and the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center, a community clinic whose patients are mostly low-income. The public parking lot off Avenue 24 provides parking for many of the clinic’s patients and on most days is filled to capacity.

While a development team has been selected to build affordable housing on city-owned properties near MacArthur Park in Westlake, (619, 623, 627 and 629 Westlake Avenue), the Lincoln Heights locations are still in the very early review stage, Fredy Cejas, Cedillo’s communication director  told EGP in an email.

He said a motion passed earlier this month by the City Council “only authorizes the City to enter into an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement with a selected team to begin a process of planning to identify alternative development schemes.

“The purpo

Housing could one day replace this parking lot near the 99 Cents Only store in Lincoln Heights. (EGP photo by B. Preciado)

Housing could one day replace this parking lot near the 99 Cents Only store in Lincoln Heights. (EGP photo by B. Preciado)

se of the Motion is to start the conversation with the community about proposed housing on City parking lots,” Cejas said.

While “no actual decision” on whether to build has been made, Cejas emphasized a decision has been made to explore how the lots can be developed with housing and what type of project may be feasible.

The news caught some Lincoln Heights businesses by surprise. Arroyo Vista’s Irene Holguin said they could not comment because they did not know anything about the proposal, which came to public light in a recent Facebook posting and Cedillo’s newsletter.

Lincoln Heights Business Improvement District President and property owner Steve Kasten said he too was unaware of the plans, but that as a businessperson his first reaction is you cannot take “all of the parking.”

“But if there is a way to create housing without eliminating parking for local businesses, I am for that,” he said, adding he wants to learn more. If new housing is built, Kasten said he hopes tenants will have incomes high enough to allow them to support local businesses.

It’s very important for the community to have input throughout the development process, Kasten told EGP.

In his email, Cejas said the city council and mayor recognize that Angelenos are facing a severe housing crisis. Rents are skyrocketing and building has not kept up with population growth. Cejas said a key strategy to deal with the issue “is to consider utilizing the unused air-space above City-owned parking lots.”

In some neighborhoods, that has meant building multi-story complexes with underground or roof top parking.

During Cedillo’s 2016 reelection campaign, challengers accused the councilman of having a secret plan to build shelters for the homeless on parking lot sites in Lincoln Heights. The councilman denied the charge, and Cejas this week emphasized that the sites under review “are not all for homeless housing.”

“The community will have a voice and be involved in the planning for the reuse of these lots as specified in the Motion,” Cejas said, adding that no parking would be lost because the city would require parking spaces to be replaced on a one-to-one basis.

According to Cejas, Cedillo will require development team selected to engage in a robust community participation process to solicit input from the district’s diverse stakeholders.

That input, Cejas said, will be used to “define the parameters of a potential project – including but not limited to what type of housing, the number of units, architectural design, parking requirements and other related city planning and environmental matters.”

Megan G. Razzetti contributed to this story.

 

L.A. City Council Approves Controversial Affordable Housing Fee

December 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council Wednesday unanimously approved the creation of an affordable housing linkage fee — one of the most hotly debated proposals to come through City Hall in recent times.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, who championed such an ordinance two years ago, immediately signed the ordinance following the City Council’s approval.

“Ending the housing affordability crisis is essential to securing Los Angeles as a place where every Angeleno — no matter their income — has an opportunity to build a life in our community,” Garcetti said. “Everyone in L.A. deserves a place to come home to, and the affordable housing linkage fee is a critical investment in making that future possible for all of our families.”

Although some council members and key business leaders expressed hesitation while the proposal was dissected at four Planning Committee meetings, the council ultimately came together in unison to approve the fee as a way to help fight the housing crisis and rising rents in the city.

“This is an important moment. I’m thrilled to be a part of it,” Councilman Bob Blumenfield said.

Councilman Jose Huizar, who chairs the Planning Committee, told City News Service, “It’s a long process, but again it reminds us of how much work we still have to do. I think this council has paid so much more attention to affordable housing issues in these last couple of years, and it’s an issue that
has been long neglected, to speak quite frankly.”

Under the ordinance, commercial and residential developers will have to pay a fee for every square foot of new construction, generating an estimated $100 million per year to be used to provide affordable housing units.

Skeptics fretted that the fee could discourage development overall or that poor tenants would suffer as landlords passed the cost of the fee onto them.

Groups that argued that the fee will slow down housing include the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which said the “business community strongly supports affordable and workforce housing, but this proposal will make low- and middle-class housing more expensive to build and more expensive to rent or own.”

The L.A. Chamber acknowledged the city has a “housing supply crisis at all levels,” but said solutions that increase housing overall is what’s needed.

Huizar said before the vote that the fee is lower than what some studies had shown developers could absorb, which helped reduce the level of opposition in the business community.

Councilman Jose Huizar (center) and affordable housing advocates at City Hall Wednesday morning called for support for a linkage fee on developers to fund the building of affordable housing. (Photo courtesy Office of Councilman Jose Huizar)

Councilman Jose Huizar (center) and affordable housing advocates at City Hall Wednesday morning called for support for a linkage fee on developers to fund the building of affordable housing. (Photo courtesy Office of Councilman Jose Huizar)

“We could have charged more in this fee, but we chose not to, and we did that purposefully so that we have a large buffer there that will not discourage any development,” he said.

A report by the Department of City Planning and Housing and Community Investment Department estimates the fee could raise between $93.7 million and $114.3 million per year, with a tiered structure ranging from $8 to $15 per square foot for residential projects and $3 to $5 for commercial ones, depending on the market value of the neighborhood.

Council members Mike Bonin and David Ryu introduced an amendment to the motion that directs city staff to present an analysis within 60 days of the market impacts of increasing the residential fee in high market areas to $18. The amendment was seconded by Councilman Paul Koretz.

The three council members represent some of the pricier neighborhoods in L.A., including Bel-Air, Brentwood, Toluca Lake and the Hollywood Hills, indicating that there likely will not be opposition on the council to the increased fee because the trio collectively represents most of the high-market areas.

Huizar said he was supportive of looking at raising the high market fee.

“This is bringing it up a little bit more in those high demand areas, where they could probably absorb more of a fee than other areas,” he said.

“Because you want to encourage more development in low-income areas and those areas that don’t have much development, but where there’s such a huge demand and people’s portfolios are working out, they could absorb this a lot easier.”

Huizar pointed out that the city’s affordable housing trust fund contained around $100 million in 2010, but has nearly dried up as state and federal contributions plummeted.

“… We are one of the last large cities in the country that doesn’t have (a) consistent revenue stream to build affordable housing,” Huizar said.

Councilman Mitchell Englander expressed some criticism of the fee at one meeting, but later said he had always supported a linkage fee, and that it had just been a question of finding the “sweet spot” that doesn’t slow development.

The ordinance does include some exemptions for the fee, including for schools, grocery stores, hospitals and developments that include a certain level of affordable units, including where at least 40 percent of the total units are for affordable to moderate-income households making between 80 percent and 120 percent of the area median income.

There are also exemptions where at least 20 percent of the total units or guest rooms are dedicated for low income households, at least 11 percent is for very low income households, or at least 8 percent are for extremely low income households.

The Planning Committee considered for a time exempting nonprofits but ultimately decided against the move out of concern that developers would abuse the option.

Councilman Gil Cedillo over the summer suggested he wasn’t necessarily against the fee, but cast some doubt on how effective it could be.

“If we think this is the whole solution, we are really making a mistake,” Cedillo told City News Service in June.

But last week, Cedillo waived consideration of the linkage fee from his Housing Committee, which cleared the path for it to be voted on before the end of the year. The council also approved a motion by Cedillo that looks to amend the ordinance by creating a linkage fee exemption for middle-income households making between 120 percent and 150 percent of the AMI.

“Today’s council action is a historic move for the permanent development and preservation of affordable housing in Los Angeles,” Cedillo said following Wednesday’s vote. “As the chair of Housing, I will support any measure that gets us closer to our goal of building 100,000 units of housing by 2021.”

He added, “When creating a linkage fee, some cities have made certain exemption to the linkage fee, including exemptions for nonprofits and 100 percent affordable housing developments. Today, the City Council also approved my motion that asks for a similar exemption to extend homeownership opportunities for middle-income households, given the increasing price and shortage of housing. We have to attack the housing crisis at every level.”

The proposed amendment, however, must still be vetted through the City Council review process before it can be finalized, which will likely begin in January and take two months to complete, Cedillo’s Communications Director, Fredy Cejas, told EGP Wednesday.

The L.A. Chamber has expressed support for Cedillo’s motion, saying in an editorial Tuesday that it “could lessen the detrimental impact of a linkage fee on middle-income housing.

“This exemption would incentivize the construction of housing designed for middle-income Angelenos who are finding our city more and more unaffordable as a place to live and raise families,” Toebben said. “Without this exemption, the linkage fee would add $12,000 to $24,000 per unit to the cost of building middle-class housing.

Other California cities such as Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco have a linkage fee, as do other cities around the country.

Garcetti set a goal in 2014 of constructing more than 100,000 units in Los Angeles by 2021 as a way to combat a housing shortage that has contributed to rising rents and an increase in homelessness in the city.

EGP Managing Editor Gloria Alvarez contributed to this story.

 

City Gives Nonprofit Property to Shelter Homeless Students

November 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Jovenes Inc., a nonprofit that serves homeless youth, will build units designed to serve homeless students engaged in post-secondary studies on a city-owned property on East Fourth Street in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar has announced.

The site is one of several city-owned property in the neighborhood east of downtown the city is looking to develop as affordable housing.

“Jovenes, Inc. is one of our premiere homeless service partners in Boyle Heights serving one of the most vulnerable populations imaginable – our youth,” Huizar said.

“It is imperative that the city assist them to give kids hope and a future that they might not have otherwise,” he said. “Education is one of this country’s great equalizers, and this Fourth Street location and the College Success Initiative is going to be a place of inspiration — where, with the excellent support services that Jovenes Inc. and its partners provide, youth have the opportunity to go to college, have a place to call home, and succeed.”

Huizar’s office said that due to partnerships with Genesis LA, a community development financing institution, and Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, the project will utilize private capital and donations and move forward faster and cheaper compared to
traditional developments. The property has sat vacant for years.

“We must create stable housing opportunities that gives homeless students and youth an opportunity to create a new vision for themselves and leave homelessness behind,” said Jovenes’ executive director, Andrea Marchetti.

Huizar also said he wants to see Jovenes expand its services near its main site on 1304 E. Pleasant Ave. in Boyle Heights and has introduced a council motion directing city staff to use the so-called Aliso Triangle property nearby to help the organization grow its campus.

The city owns the Aliso site, which is surrounded by Jovenes’ headquarters and properties owned by the nonprofit, and Huizar said he wants Jovenes to secure it so it can expand its services.

Over Residents’ Protests, Sups Approve East L.A. Housing Project

July 27, 2017 by · 2 Comments 

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday turned down an appeal by East Los Angeles residents to block the development of affordable rental units at Whittier Boulevard and South Downey Road, pushing forward with plans to fight homelessness.

Supervisor Hilda Solis said such developments are sorely needed to keep more people from losing their homes.

“Were not even scratching the surface,” Solis said, noting that the county’s housing gap between supply and demand amounts to more than half a million units.

Corner of Whittier Boulevard and South Downey Road in East Los Angeles where one of two affordable housing sites approved by County supervisors will be built. (EGP photo by Carlos Alvarez- July 27, 2017)

Corner of Whittier Boulevard and South Downey Road in East Los Angeles where one of two affordable housing sites approved by County supervisors will be built. (EGP photo by Carlos Alvarez- July 27, 2017)

The two-building complex, to be built on two sites across from Calvary Cemetery, will replace vacant commercial buildings.

Downey I — a three-story, 42-unit, garden-style apartment building — will include 1,161 square feet of retail and parking space on the northwest corner of the intersection. Downey II will be four stories with 71 units and 3,208 square feet of retail and parking.

All but two manager’s units will be for low-income residents and 15 percent will include features for renters with special needs.

More than 100 residents signed a letter opposing the project, raising concerns about traffic, parking and the scale of the development in an area of single-family homes and duplexes.

“We acknowledge (that) some form of development on these land parcels is desirable,” the letter reads. “All we humbly ask is that … consideration be given to projects that the community actually wants and that enhance the quality of life for those who already live in this community.”

Many turned out to try and persuade the board, in both English and Spanish, not to move forward.

“There’s already impossible traffic … and I don’t understand how over 400 more residents are going to fit in this community,” said Estela Donlucas, telling the board that her family had lived in the neighborhood for more than 45 years.

Others worried about hazardous contaminants like lead and arsenic.

Soil samples showed “no significant concentration of lead,” but elevated levels of arsenic were found in two areas, one on each site, according to a county fire official in the department’s hazardous materials division.

The developer, Meta Housing, has agreed to handle environmental cleanup before beginning grading on the sites. Asbestos and lead-based paint in the buildings set for demolition will be managed through the permitting process.

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Many residents remained unsatisfied.

“Our houses will be very affected by all these toxins,” Enedina Paz told the board. “I believe you have children and grandchildren and you wouldn’t like for them to be inhaling toxins.”

Voters approved Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the fight against homelessness, by nearly 70 percent. However, residents in many communities have pushed back against affordable housing development in their own neighborhoods.

Some Angelenos offered their support.

Fanny Ortiz, a Boyle Heights resident and single mother of five children, including one with special needs who requires 24-hour nursing, said access to affordable housing changed her life.

“I believe housing is a basic human right. We are in a housing crisis and development of affordable housing is an equitable solution,” Ortiz told the board, adding that she once lived in the neighborhood in question.

As a “transit priority project,” the proposed development was granted a California Environmental Quality Act exemption, which means it will not have to report on traffic impacts on global warming or the regional transportation network.

Solis defended the board’s decision, noting that poverty rates in the county have risen above 25 percent. The lowest income renters right now spend more than 70 percent of their income on rent, Solis noted, citing data from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Immediately following the board vote, Solis issued a statement.

“It is evident that both the community and Meta Housing are deeply passionate about quality of life of our residents. Every testimony we heard at the board today had one thing in common: the community and its well-being,” she said.

“I work every day to keep the safety, quality of life and environmental health of our neighborhoods at the highest quality possible, and those values are reflected by our vote to deny today’s appeal,” Solis said. “My colleagues and I agree that Meta Housing has met all requirements to develop this project, including a number of measures designed to meet the communities’ environmental health and safety concerns.”

County Backs City Housing Bond on 3-0 Vote

September 8, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

County supervisors went on record Tuesday in favor of a City of Los Angeles bond measure that would generate $1.2 billion to fund the construction of affordable housing, including permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless.

The Board of Supervisors’ vote in support of Proposition H was 3-0, with Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe abstaining.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recommended backing the November ballot measure, which he said would “make a significant dent in homelessness.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called the proposition “HHH, which I say stands for homeless, housing and hope.”

Garcetti pointed to the success of concentrated efforts by county and city leaders to house homeless veterans.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2016 count found that while homelessness had increased nearly 6 percent overall since 2015, the number of veterans living on the street was down 44 percent countywide.

The mayor had initially set a 2015 deadline for finding homes for all homeless vets and said today that the city was 1,200 to 1,500 units away from “declaring victory,” a milestone he thought would be hit next year.

However, more non-veterans are living in tents on the street, under freeway overpasses and on hillsides.

From “every corner of this city, you can see homeless people,” Garcetti told the supervisors.

City and county leaders have both been working to raise funds to combat homelessness, with Ridley-Thomas leading a push for Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency related to the issue.

Brown has said such a declaration would be inappropriate, though the Legislature has approved $2 billion for the construction of permanent supportive housing statewide.

LAHSA has estimated that 15,000 supportive units are needed to house the “unsheltered homeless,” while the California Housing Partnership calculates a 500,000-unit deficit in affordable housing countywide.

Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said Prop. H would create a “qualitative shift” in homelessness and triple the city’s capacity to build new units.

Ridley-Thomas said construction was just part of the story.

“Units without services is a half loaf at best,” he said.

The county’s chief executive officer and LAHSA estimate that another $450 million will be needed annually to pay for homeless supportive service like mental health care and substance abuse programs.

The board has considered a number of solutions, including a millionaire’s tax, a quarter-cent sales tax and a tax on marijuana, but could not agree on an alternative to put before voters this November.

The Homelessness Reduction and Prevention, Housing and Facilities General Obligation Bond Proposition requires the support of two-thirds of voters to pass.

 

L.A. to Spend $200M on Housing for Disabled

September 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council agreed Tuesday to spend at least $200 million over the next 10 years to rehabilitate or build affordable housing units that are accessible to the disabled as part of the settlement deal of a 2012 lawsuit.

The settlement resolves the city’s role in a suit filed by three disability and fair housing advocacy groups that alleged the city and its now-defunct redevelopment agency failed to ensure that affordable apartment projects that received federal funds were accessible to the disabled.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Independent Living Center of Southern California, the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley and Communities Actively Living Independent and Free.

The lawsuit came a month after the U.S. Attorney’s Office informed city officials it was investigating whether projects that received federal funding through the redevelopment agency followed laws protecting people who are disabled. The city stood to lose out on grants or would face fines if violations were discovered.

Under the settlement, which was approved Tuesday on a 12-0 vote, the city will be required to spend an average of $20 million annually during a 10-year period, and add 4,000 new or retrofitted accessible, affordable units.

The city has also agreed to pay at most $20 million in attorneys’ fees, with the exact amount still to be determined. The agreement also requires that the city pay $4.5 million in damages to plaintiffs and up to $1 million for miscellaneous court costs.

Other terms include creating a monitoring and inspections process that adheres to disability accessibility regulations; making a list of accessible apartment units in the city available online; and training property owners on their responsibilities to make their units accessible.

“We think this is an extremely significant settlement,” said Autumn Elliott, a Disability Rights California attorney who represents the three advocacy groups.

“It’s the only one of its kind that I know of, and it’s going to result in accessible housing for on the order of 10,000 people over the life of these units.”

Elliott said the lawsuit came about after advocacy groups received complaints from people with disabilities who said they were “having difficulty finding accessible affordable housing units in the city of L.A.”

Elliott said experts were hired to investigate the issue, and after making random visits to apartment buildings and reviewing a sampling of buildings plans, they found no housing developments “that were fully accessible to people with disabilities.”

“Our experts found across-the-board non-compliance with accessibility standards, and they weren’t small issues,” Elliott said. “They were issues that were big enough to affect the usability of the units by somebody with disabilities.”

Elliott said the affordable and market-rate units they checked had doorways and kitchens that could not accommodate wheelchairs. The units also lacked grab bars in the bathrooms and there were no countertops set to an appropriate height, she said.

The federal funds are primarily provided to housing projects as a way to encourage more affordable housing, Elliott said, and she believes city and redevelopment agency officials might not have realized “how crucial they (the affordable units) are for people with disabilities,” particularly low-income people with disabilities. Or else, they may have felt “somebody else was taking care of it,” she said.

Michael Allen, another attorney who represents the advocacy groups, said the settlement covers about 47,000 total units spread out over 700 housing developments, which includes some that were built as far back as 1988.

Allen said the 4,000 units figure reached under the settlement represents at least the full percentage of units the city was required to make accessible to people with disabilities on the existing apartment complexes.

These units included not only those that were originally the responsibility of the redevelopment agency — which were the subject of the lawsuit — but a significant number of additional units that were directly overseen by the city, Allen said.

“To its credit, when the city realized the issue of accessibility may be a concern in the entire portfolio, not just in the community redevelopment agency part, the city voluntarily chose to resolve the case on all of its affordable housing portfolio,” Allen said.

Housing developments that receive federal money are required to make 5 percent of their units accessible to people with mobility disabilities, and another 2 percent accessible to people who are blind or deaf, he said.

Allen said the settlement will set a good example to other cities.

“This is the largest accessibility settlement ever reached involving affordable housing, and it will send a strong, positive message to cities all over the country that their housing programs must be accessible,” Allen said.

Attorneys for the groups said the litigation against the redevelopment agency itself will continue. Allen said they hope to ensure that accessibility issues in at least 22 additional housing developments that is still under the agency’s control are addressed.

The settlement approved by the council becomes effective once city officials have signed it, after which the city will need to work out a process for how many units will be retrofitted and newly built.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that the settlement “allows us to resolve a long-standing legal issue with a predictable level of investment.”

“Los Angeles is a city that stands for inclusiveness and access for all,” he said. “If we have fallen short of that commitment, we need to fix it as quickly as possible.”

Cielo Castro, a spokeswoman for City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, said the “upfront costs” of the settlement will be covered by funding from the city’s reserves, which the city sets aside for emergencies.

“The $200 million settlement will be budgeted on an ongoing basis through the regular budget process,” Castro said.

 

L.A. Seeks Proposals to Build Housing for the Homeless

July 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The city of Los Angeles officially put out a call Monday for developers to submit plans for building homeless housing at eight city-owned properties.

City leaders are looking to build more housing for the homeless as part of a larger plan to fight homelessness in Los Angeles, where about 27,000 are thought to be living on the streets.

City officials are asking affordable housing developers to submit proposals for what they believe can be done with the eight properties, with the hope that the parcels can either be developed into housing or sold off to raise money for housing projects elsewhere.

The developers would be placed on a list of pre-qualified firms for the proposed projects.

City leaders have adopted a $138 million plan to address homelessness in the upcoming year, and have also placed a $1.2 billion parcel tax measure on the November ballot aimed at raising a sustained source of funds for homeless housing projects.

The city’s housing department is also moving forward with its own slate of affordable and homeless housing projects at 13 other city-owned cites, according to the mayor’s office.

Metro Takes In Ideas for Mariachi Plaza

March 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Boyle Heights resident Leticia Andrade last Saturday said she would like to see affordable housing built on an empty lot located behind Mariachi Plaza. Restaurant owner Armando Salazar wants a grocery store or a public parking lot, and senior Carmen Fuentes thinks a center offering services to seniors and children would be a good fit at that location.

Andrade told EGP she knows of families that have “up to seven people living in a one bedroom apartment” and building more affordable housing would help alleviate some of the overcrowding.

Lea este artículo en Español: Metro Recibe Ideas para la Plaza del Mariachi Plaza

Hers and other views were expressed during the first of two public workshops being hosted by Metro to gather input from Boyle Heights residents and stakeholders on what the transportation agency should do with two empty lots it owns adjacent to Mariachi Plaza, on Bailey Street between Pennsylvania and 1st Streets.

The design workshops are being facilitated by Metro’s urban design/architectural consultant team, with the objective of creating a project that will reflect “community goals” for the space.

Mariachi Plaza is an iconic place for Boyle Heights, Metro Director of Planning Vivian Rescalvo told EGP, explaining that Metro wants to hear directly from the community how they would like see the space used, whether it’s for housing, public space, retail or any other ideas.

This is not the first time Metro has traveled down this road. Past proposals for developing the lots were met with strong community opposition ultimately scrapped.

Boyle Heights residents and stakeholders discuss best use for two vacant Metro-owned lots behind Mariachi Plaza. (EGP photo by jacqueline Garcia)

Boyle Heights residents and stakeholders discuss best use for two vacant Metro-owned lots behind Mariachi Plaza. (EGP photo by jacqueline Garcia)

Metro is starting all over with new ideas and community input, Rescalvo said.

“We are ready to hear from the community based on what Boyle Heights has, what do they feel it needs and what do they think is the right use for these properties immediately adjacent to Mariachi Plaza,” she said.

Salazar owns the Santa Cecilia Restaurant at Mariachi Plaza and thinks the community needs a grocery store. “We used to have a market and it was demolished when Metro started building,” he told EGP. “A parking lot for Boyle Heights visitors would also be a good idea,” he added.

Saturday’s workshop kicked off with a presentation by the Las Fotos Project – a community based photography program for girls and young women— which the group said highlighted the needs of the community as captured through the lens of their cameras:

A photo of a large group of people gathered on a sidewalk on Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, showcased the need for more open spaces with benches; a photo of a graffiti covered wall called attention to the need for more recreational areas to prevent tagging of existing murals; and a photo of street vendors on a local sidewalk suggested the empty lots could be used as a place for street vendors to sell their wares.

Las Fotos Project member Jennifer Bermudez said her photo of cars parked on the street shows there is a need for more public parking.

“We live in a dense area, and especially in Mariachi Plaza and Cesar Chavez where a lot of events are going on, there’s no parking,” she said. “That’s always a struggle [to find parking] and that creates [more] traffic,” Bermudez said.

The workshop included opportunities for the 100 or so people in attendance to meet in small groups with Metro planning representatives to discuss the ideas for the land they believe to be the best fit for the eastside neighborhood —whether taken from the photos they had just seen or based on what they see in their everyday life.

They were encouraged to “dream big.”

“A pool,” suggested one resident. “A skate park,” said another.

Rafael Chagoya is a member of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council and he thinks public restrooms at Metro’s Gold Line station at Mariachi Plaza is what’s needed.

Many other Metro stations have public restrooms, but there are none here, he told the group at his table.
Chagoya also supports creating a space where street vendors can do business in a “dignified way,” without being kicked out every time they try to sell their goods.

Andrade agrees. If new affordable housing makes it into Metro’s plan, she suggests the housing include street level retail space, which could be a good rental option for local street vendors.

At the end of the workshop, participants were given green stickers to vote for their four favorite ideas presented and red stickers for the two options they most opposed.

Among the top options were a grocery store, parks, affordable housing or public parking. Getting the highest number of no votes were proposals for commercial use, such as offices, a healthcare clinic, bank or gym, and for civic spaces like a library or city/county/state agency.

A second community workshop will take place March 9 at Bishop Mora Salesian High School from 6:30 to 8:30pm. Residents and stakeholders are encouraged to attend. For more information, visit, https://www.metro.net/projects/jd-boyle-heights/upcoming-meetings/.

Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

Displaced Tenants Win ‘Right to Return’

December 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Calling it a victory in the fight against displacement and gentrification, Carolina Vivara and her family Tuesday night celebrated an agreement that guarantees them and their neighbors the right to live in a new 50-unit affordable housing complex being built on the site of their former homes in Boyle Heights.

In August, families residing in 5 buildings on the 2400 block of East First Street were notified they would have to vacate their homes by Nov. 30 to make room for Cielito Lindo Phase 1, a 50-unit affordable housing complex being built by nonprofit housing developer East Los Angeles Community Corp, ELACC.

Lea este artículo en Español: Inquilinos Desplazados Ganan el ‘Derecho a Quedarse’

Months of negotiations between the tenants and ELACC resulted in the agreement that will give seventeen households, representing approximately 50 residents, the “Right of First Refusal” on leases for the first phase of the new housing complex scheduled to open in 2017.

By law, all the displaced residents are entitled to a minimum of $19,000 in relocation money, which tenants will not have to return even if they decide to lease a unit in the new facility.

It’s a big relief, said Vivara, who has lived in the same apartment for 17 years. She told EGP she was afraid she would lose her home and not be able to afford a new place. “Rent is extremely expensive,” she noted.

Tenants received support from Union de Vecinos, a nonprofit network of Boyle Heights committees fighting against gentrification and displacement since 1996.

Union de Vecinos helped tenants negotiate the terms of the deal allowing them to return when construction is completed.

Initially, renters were told by ELACC that they could only return if they met the development’s strict income eligibility requirements and passed credit and background checks.

For Vivara, that led to worries that her husband, the family’s sole provider, would not meet the minimum $24,000 income requirement for a family of four, and they would not be able to afford rent in another location.

“I currently pay $900 with utilities included for the two-bedroom apartment,” she told EGP in Spanish. “In other buildings the same apartment is $1,400 plus utilities, ” the mother of two said.

Terry Navarro has lived in Boyle Heights since the 1970s and in one of the buildings being demolished for the past eight years. She told EGP she attended the meeting where ELACC informed them about the situation and gave them a verbal offer to return.

“The problem is that we didn’t know for sure if we were coming back and that’s why we requested [the offer] be in writing,” she told EGP. Sometimes verbal offers don’t count, she said.

As part of the agreement, the tenants will not have to meet the minimum income requirements, Isela Gracian, ELACC president told EGP.

Carolina Vivara signs an agreement Tuesday night to move in a new affordable housing complex in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Carolina Vivara signs an agreement Tuesday night to move in a new affordable housing complex in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Also, applicants will have their credit reviewed, however, credit scores or debt will not be used to determine eligibility as long as applicants’ prior rental accounts are in good standing and they do not have a default eviction.

So far, 16 of the 17 households have received relocation benefits, according to Gracian. “One was able to purchase his first home with the relocation benefits,” she said.

The majority of tenants have found a new place to live for the next 18 months or so. East La Community Corp. staff is helping the others locate a place to move.

Elizabeth Blaney, co-director of Union de Vecinos told the tenants they hope the Right of First Refusal agreement is one that will be adopted by other developers building projects that could displace long-time residents of Boyle Heights and nearby areas.

“We are happy that East LA Community Corporation worked with us and the tenants to help reduce the displacement occurring in Boyle Heights,” Blaney said. “The right of return agreement can be a model for other affordable housing developers to help reduce the displacement caused by the construction of new affordable housing.”

The new housing complex will have 49 affordable units of one, two and three bedrooms and one manager unit, parking for 62 cars, 61 bicycles, a roof-top garden, community space among other amenities, according to ELACC.

Construction is set to begin in late January 2016.

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Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

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