Lacter/edit/oct.19/dt1st/LK2nd

Hd A Crisis

Ignored

This being Los Angeles, housing is considered a very big deal but usually in relation to mortgage rates, home prices and how much closet space the new place has. With almost four out of 10 L.A. County residents now able to afford a median-priced home, a sharp increase from a decade ago, there is nothing elitist or exclusive about being a homeowner. For many, it remains a very reachable goal in pursuit of the American dream.

Many, but not all. As pointed out in this week's special report on the future of L.A. real estate, the shortage of low-income housing has reached crisis proportions and given the population projections over the next 20 years, it's certain to get worse.

Even now, 60 percent of L.A. County residents live in rental housing the first time that renters make up more than half of the county's population. And for every "low-rent" apartment (defined as costing under $300 a month), there are four low-income renters earning less than $12,000 a year. That ratio is much higher than the national average and even higher than in New York City.

An additional 357,000 units would have to be made available to fill the gap an impossible target given the current funding realities. And even if funding were available, there simply isn't enough housing stock. Consider that only 12,000 new housing units are being built in L.A. County each year.

None of this is exactly new. L.A. has had a shortage of low-income housing for years, fueled by the large number of immigrants coming into the area, a lack of cheap land, and the federal government's de-emphasis on rental assistance programs.

There's one other factor: No one seems to be paying much attention. A still-buoyant economy provides the illusion that boats of all income levels will be lifted, and while that's certainly true in some cases, it's clear that a family earning just $12,000 a year is likely to need help.

Except they're not likely to get it. From a political standpoint, these folks are at the end of the line. They certainly don't contribute to campaigns, and they're not even likely to vote (some, of course, are not eligible to vote).

Besides, there is no quick-fix solution to the housing dilemma. It would involve many billions of investment dollars at least some of that publicly financed as well as community support and several years of actual development. In the current political climate, it's hard to imagine any major housing initiative getting past all those hurdles.

"There is a vast leadership gap in the county and in the city when it comes to affordable multi-family housing," said Jan Breidenbach, executive director of the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing.

What's the alternative? At this point, a hodgepodge of relatively small programs and grants. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, has only 2,000 slots available for rental subsidies under its Section 8 program. Around 175,000 low-income renters already have applied.

Such piecemeal solutions lack vision and political resolve an all-too-familiar pattern these days. There must be a broad-based acknowledgement that a housing crisis is at hand and that it will ultimately affect everyone's quality of life. Otherwise, an already significant crisis will only worsen.

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