Infrastructure Funds Tied to Plans for Affordable Housing
Proposal Doesn't Ease Opposition to Projects

By HOWARD FINE
Staff Reporter

Facing rising opposition from homeowner groups and others, city officials are considering a proposal to give neighborhoods financial and infrastructure-related incentives if those communities agree to affordable housing projects.

"We need to provide some relief to communities that do agree to meet our housing goals," said L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti, co-author of an ordinance that would require housing developers to set aside units for affordable housing.

That ordinance, which Garcetti and Councilman Ed Reyes introduced earlier this year, would require developers of any residential project of more than five units to set aside 10 to 12 percent of rental units and 20 to 40 percent of for-sale units for affordable housing. In exchange, developers could exceed current limits on building heights and densities.

The proposed ordinance went through a series of hearings this summer and is due back before the City Council's planning and community development committees later this month. Following more negotiations, a final ordinance could go before the full council late this year or early next year.

The promise of more infrastructure funds does not appear to be softening opposition among some neighborhood and homeowner groups.

"For us, adding more lanes or parking will simply invite more people to come into already crowded communities," said Sandy Brown, president of the Holmby-Westwood Property Owners Association. "And it does nothing to address the fact that this proposal will result in more people and more buildings that exceed the zoned height limits. I'm very skeptical and wary of any so-called incentives for neighborhoods."

Maintaining a 'village feel'

Developer and business groups have said mandatory set-asides would drive up the cost of development and force builders to seek projects elsewhere; they prefer voluntary guidelines with incentives for those developers who commit to set aside units for affordable housing.

But a potentially bigger obstacle lies in this stiffening opposition from homeowner and other neighborhood groups that fear increased densities and building heights will destroy the character of their neighborhoods.

"We're already overwhelmed by huge heights for buildings and inadequate parking," said Barbara Monahan Burke, who chairs a zoning committee for the Studio City Residents Association, which opposes mandatory affordable housing set-asides. "We want to maintain a village feel, with open space and trees and breathing room. This ordinance would result in even more buildings crammed in."

Burke is especially wary of the promise to confine much of the affordable housing development to transit corridors. "They define a transit corridor as a street with just one DASH bus, and the development can be anywhere within a quarter-mile of that street. Those parameters take in virtually all of Studio City," she said.

While developers also oppose mandatory set-asides, they see this neighborhood opposition complicating any housing projects, whether they contain affordable units or not. That's why, as part of their counterproposal unveiled last month, business and development groups put forward a plan to reward those communities that agree to additional housing development.

Under the plan, any additional property tax revenues generated by new housing projects would go back to the council districts, not to the city's general fund. That would enable neighborhoods to move to the front of the line for additional infrastructure projects, like road and sidewalk repair, landscaping, community centers and parks.

"The proposal that's now out there doesn't provide any benefits to neighborhoods for supporting low-income housing," said Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the Central City Association, which has spearheaded the opposition to mandatory affordable housing set-asides. "There has to be a way to say to neighborhoods, 'If you support this housing, here's what you get in return.'"

'Housing incentive zones'

Also, under the business counterproposal, councilmembers with input from neighborhood councils would have the authority to designate the most suitable areas within their districts for additional housing units. These "housing incentive zones" would likely lie along commercial and transit corridors.

Garcetti said he likes the idea of granting incentives to neighborhoods that agree to additional affordable housing units, although he differed on the financing mechanism. Instead of property tax financing, Garcetti said he favors using some money from an affordable housing bond. The business counterproposal calls for the city to issue a $500 million bond, with funds earmarked to subsidize low-income housing.

"We can't take existing money away from other areas that need it, and using property tax dollars takes away money from schools and other government programs," Garcetti said.

Even neighborhood groups that like the concept of increased infrastructure funding are wary of the details. They have two main concerns: how broad an area would be eligible to receive the additional funds and who gets to decide.

"Neighborhood councils aren't going to accept this if it's left up to the councilmember to decide where the funds would go in his or her district," said Jason Lyon, co-chair of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council.


Inclusionary Debate

Trying to meet the need for affordable housing.

What's Covered: Developments of more than five units. Developer must set aside 10 percent to 12 percent of rental units or 20 percent to 40 percent of for-sale units for those below certain income levels in exchange for density and height bonuses.

Competing proposal: Builders and business groups proposed a "fair-share" plan granting incentives to developers who choose to build affordable housing.

What's next: A City Council committee hearing later this month. Revised ordinance could come back to the council by early next year. Any ordinance passed would likely be phased in starting in 2006.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.