Inclusionary zoning in Los Angeles, please

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times call on Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council to support affordable housing through inclusionary zoning, a legal mechanism that links development with mandatory affordable housing construction. According to the piece, more than 200 California municipalities have adopted inclusionary zoning laws, although not without many court battles. I wrote earlier this year about San Jose’s court victory to maintain affordable housing provisions in new for-sale developments. As a result of the San Jose case, all California developers of projects with 20 or more for-sale units must now price 15 percent of units at affordable rates. The biggest problem with this legislation: it does not address the needs of people who require rental housing.

Developers of Los Angeles apartment buildings (arguably the most common housing option for low-income people) are not required to make any concessions toward affordability. As a result, rents have risen at a pace far surpassing that of incomes and affordable housing is becoming as rare a resource in the region as water.

Inclusionary zoning is a good way to ensure the propagation of new affordable housing. Developers can only build their market-rate units if they include some portion of affordable units, or pay in-lieu fees into a local affordable housing fund. In Chicago, the number of affordable units required is based on where in the city the proposed building is located as well as its proximity to transit. Only a portion of the required units can be paid-off in fees. This iteration of the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance came into effect as a way to limit segregation and create opportunities for city residents who otherwise would be stuck in low-income, economically depressed neighborhoods. It is too soon to tell if the Ordinance is a success, but I think that the focus on connecting affordable housing with transit and jobs and the mandate for mixed-income developments is a promising step in the right direction.

Los Angeles would benefit from proactive, location based affordable housing legislation. As a former Los Angeles resident, I urge Mayor Garcetti and the City Council to develop an inclusionary zoning plan that makes the city a sustainable place to live even for the lowest-income residents.

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