The Nimby Diaries: Homes end homelessness — we need to say ‘yes’ to new housing

| July 1, 2021 | 0 Comments

Recent polling found 66% of California voters (54% of whom were Republicans) approve of a bill to amend the California Constitution to establish a fundamental human right to housing.

So, how is California doing — housing our residents?

Sadly, Los Angeles allowed the population of the unhoused to escalate to crisis levels before taking action. Those working in the field to provide care and find adequate shelter were not prepared for a crisis of this scale. As the growing number of unhoused people languished on the streets, the trauma they experienced there compounded their inability to help themselves or to receive help. As a result, the unhoused population continues to grow more chronic and intransigent.

Once homelessness became visible to the wider community, outrage toward public officials grew. Officials directed government funds to quick fixes such as building shelters, sweeping encampments, and arresting “loiterers.”

Newer efforts are working. Programs and new housing options have been developed during the past few years, allowing us to house 207 of the unhoused each day. But, each day, 227 more people fall into homelessness. So, why?

The causes are numerous and unmanageable, the amalgamation of which thwarts success. I will argue that NOTHING will change until adequate (500,000) affordable units are built, but we also can no longer overlook the effects of a broken mental health system, poverty and racism (next
month’s column).

Our homeless crisis is our housing crisis

Successful cities in other countries build housing based on the economic needs of their population. The lack of available affordable housing in our city has created a high-priced housing rental and ownership market that effectively forces people out of their homes and onto the street. Our unhoused population is increasingly made up of families and individuals who simply can no longer afford a place to live.

Our elected officials are well aware that Los Angeles has not built the necessary housing to support our population. But influential developers and investors have been allowed to take advantage of lax ordinances to build a record number of luxury units, many of which currently sit vacant. Meanwhile, the difficulty of
building affordable housing in Los Angeles remains one of our most seemingly intractable problems. Another of the main reasons for this inaction is that many residents are against affordable housing being built in their communities. Even though 77% of voters approved bond measures Prop HHH and H, local communities still come out in force to protest low income, supportive and bridge housing in their neighborhoods. We’re happy to support the bonds to build necessary housing, but we seem unwilling to have that housing built near us. Our classic “not-in-my-backyard” response.

There is little room to build

Los Angeles lacks the available land to build the housing we actually need. With 80% of the city’s land zoned for single-family homes, the amount of land available for multi-family zoning is inadequate. Our many slow-growth policies, (enacted over the last 50 years), have created a system that can’t keep up with demand. During each of the last five years, we’ve built less housing than the previous year. According to a study released by the National Association of Realtors, people want to live in urban environments, but zoning and density restrictions put affordable housing out of reach for many.

We need to fix our zoning. Scarcity of land creates competitive pricing, higher building costs and rental prices. Tens of thousands of people have lost their housing as rents have climbed and incomes haven’t kept up. This is particularly true of the incomes of our “essential workers” who will continue to fall into homelessness in record numbers as long as their jobs don’t pay them enough to afford our high rents. As long as the costs of land and construction remain prohibitive for building affordable housing, we will be pushing more and more people into homelessness, and zoning restrictions drive these trends.

Stopping this cycle requires a willingness for all of us to compromise and realize that the only real solution is for affordable housing to be built in ALL parts of the city. Near us, down the block from us, next door to us.

We simply need to say YES to ALL housing being built in our neighborhoods. “Yes” to fewer parking requirements for new buildings. “Yes” to more density along transit corridors so people can get around without a car. “Yes” to taller buildings with rents that shop owners at street level and working people in apartment units above can afford. Say: “Yes, we want MORE affordable units in ALL NEW housing developments.” No loopholes or buyout provisions. We need to say YES and say it loudly.


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Category: Real Estate

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