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.

 

An Important Step Toward More Housing

November 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Last week, something really important happened at the Los Angeles City Planning Commission (CPC). The Commissioners took a big step towards increasing our ability to build more desperately needed housing along our new transit lines. After five years of planning, we are making real progress.

In June 2012, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning, in partnership with Metro, launched the Transit Neighborhood Plans (TNPs) program to encourage livable communities and employment centers around the region’s expanding transit network. The Expo Line TNP is the first proposal to be developed and it was approved by the CPC last week.

The City Planning Department presented a proposal to regulate development within half a mile of the five stops from Culver City to the Bundy station. Recognizing that the plan needed to be bolder and provide more housing, the Commission restored zoning that had been downzoned, removed height bias and reduced parking minimums. Along a corridor that has already reached its 2030 goal of 64,000 daily boardings, we now have the opportunity to see the construction of badly needed housing that relies on transit and not automobiles.

Mayor Eric Garcetti set a goal of 275,000 new housing units in the next two decades, two-thirds of which should be within one-quarter of a mile from a transit stop. This is part of what Angelenos envisioned when we overwhelmingly supported Measure M – transportation investments that also create hubs for housing and jobs, giving residents transit choices and walkable communities. The Expo Line TNP will now go to City Council and the Chamber will be there in support.

The Purple Line TNP, which will address planning for the communities around the La Brea, Fairfax and La Cienega stations, is also in the planning stages. I urge you to be a part of these conversations. It is essential that we get these plans right because they will be the foundation of a city that provides homes, jobs and transportation for future generations.

And that’s The Business Perspective.

 

The Business Perspective is a weekly column by Gary Toebben, President & CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, produced with the input of Public Policy staff.

State & Feds Must Address Transportation Funding Crisis

July 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The Federal Highway Trust Fund will expire on July 31 and California’s highways are falling apart. The businesses and residents of California are angry and frustrated by the lack of focus on transportation at both the State and Federal level. Tax revenue is growing in Washington DC and Sacramento but none of that new revenue is going to transportation.

Transportation funding at both the State and Federal level is largely dependent on a per gallon gasoline tax that has been stagnant for years because the tax per gallon has not been increased at the State or Federal level for decades and the development of more fuel efficient cars has lowered the per mile revenue from every vehicle on the road. This has been welcome news for drivers and a major blow to the funding needed to maintain the quality of our transportation infrastructure.

Governor Brown has called a special session on transportation funding and the first hearing was held on June 2. It makes sense for the state to use some of its new general fund revenue for transportation improvements and to add to that funding pool an increase in other revenue sources that are directly related to the drivers that use our streets and highways.

In Congress, the Senate has made some progress on a bi-partisan bill to authorize a new Surface Transportation bill, but revenue to grow the Highway Trust Fund was not part of the proposal. The House has been less aggressive and seems content to vote for another five month extension.

Funding for transportation infrastructure is not an easy problem to solve, but it must be addressed if America is to efficiently move its people and products. Both our quality of life and our economy are at risk. Yes, it will cost money. Money that I believe businesses and residents are willing to pay if they see results in the quality and efficiency of their transportation networks.

Building a transportation network that meets the needs of a growing economy and the challenges of an aging infrastructure requires money and each of us must be prepared to pay for a portion of that cost. We also have the right to demand that more of the tax dollars we are already paying should be earmarked for transportation. I hope you will join me in sending that message to Congress and to our State Legislature. Traffic and potholes are not getting better as we wait.

And that’s The Business Perspective.

 

The Business Perspective is a weekly column by Gary Toebben, President & CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, produced with the input of Public Policy staff.

 

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