Southern California Public Radio affiliate KPCC, in partnership with the Milken Institute, assembled a panel of experts Wednesday night to answer the question: can high-density housing solve the housing crisis currently facing L.A. County and California?
Solair at Wilshire/Western in 2007. Photo: Damien Newton
For those who have been following news about the crippling housing supply crisis in our region, it may not come as a surprise that there were no straight-forward answers to this question offered up over the course of the 90-minute discussion (available to watch here in its entirety), moderated by KPCC senior reporter covering housing, Josie Huang.
The five-person panel did, however, generate some interesting possibilities for the future of our region and how to address the skyrocketing rents and home prices that are driving middle- and low-income people out of Southern California and even the state.
Or, in the words of panelist, Larry Gross, the executive director Coalition for Economic Survival, how do we prevent “the people who run Los Angeles [from] being run out of Los Angeles”?
“I don’t think density in itself is neither the solution for affordable housing, nor is it the great evil that will destroy neighborhoods forever. It has to be done well, it has to be located right, designed right, planned out right,” said William Huang, director of housing for the city of Pasadena.
Southern California’s historic aversion to density is clearly part of the problem, according to Professor of Architecture/Urban Design and Urban Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Dana Cuff, who was also on the panel.
“One of the reasons housing prices have gone up so much recently has to do with the fact that we can’t sprawl out any further,” said Cuff.
“It used to be that people went out of the city to look for cheaper and cheaper housing,” Cuff said, which has resulted in Southern California having the nation’s highest rates of “extreme commutes,” which means a commute of at least 90 minutes each way.
But as the region densifies, especially along our growing transit system, how can communities make sure that homes are homes built not just for the wealthy, but also for middle- and low-income households, who are more likely to ride transit on a day-to-day basis?
“If we develop our transit system in the wrong way, we’ll have higher-income people moving along those transit corridors, who may use transit to commute to work, but not for their regular trips, and you [will] actually see a decline in ridership on the transit system,” said panelist Jeff Schaffer, vice president of Enterprise Community Partners.
“Phil Washington, the new head of Metro, has said if low income people are forced to move further away from transit, then he’s going to be obligated to build transit to get out to them,” he said. A step in the right direction, however, is Metro’s plan to assure that at least 35 percent of all new housing developed on Metro property be affordable.
“We have a lot of ideas in terms of solutions [to the housing affordability problem],” said Schaffer, “whether it’s through design innovation, planning and zoning changes…, a mix of subsidies, incentives, requirements.”
“What we really need is some kind of comprehensive plan that ties all these together and fundamentally, we need a societal commitment that every person in our community deserves a decent, safe, and sanitary place to live,” he said.
If we just leave it to market forces, we’ll see a “dismal performance” in terms of housing production for low-income people, he said. Read more…