There’s a relatively-new player on the scene in pressing for preserving and building affordable housing along Southern California transit lines: L.A. THRIVES. It’s a coalition effort, comprised of organizations and individuals with great track records on making L.A. healthier and more livable. Our interview was conducted over email in late April.
Tell our readers a bit of your individual backgrounds.
I’m Jeff Schaffer, vice president and market leader for Southern California for Enterprise Community Partners. I’ve spent the past 25 years in local and international community development work, with a consistent theme of addressing the housing needs of low-income people.
And I’m Beth Steckler, deputy director at Move LA, and I’ve been working on housing affordability, land use and transit expansion in Los Angeles for about 20 years.
What is L.A. THRIVES?
We’re a handful of groups working to make communities in LA County better places to live – especially lower-income areas. Our acronym stands for Transit, Housing, Resources, and Investment for a Vibrant Economy. We’ve got a couple of local foundations (California Community Foundation, and Liberty Hill), the local offices of two national community development powerhouses (Enterprise Community Partners and Low Income Investment Fund) and three groups working on transit expansion (Move LA), housing affordability (So. Calif. Assn. of Non-Profit Housing), and health (Prevention Institute).
Officially, we’re committed to equitable TOD, which is shorthand for transit-oriented development that prioritizes investments in affordable homes, that protects the social fabric of neighborhoods, and makes it easier for residents to walk, bike, and take transit to shops and services.
Together we’ve been breaking down silos by bringing together, in the same room, people from all kinds of groups working locally on these issues, from the Planning Department at the city of L.A. to Metro to community groups like SAJE and L.A. Voice. We’ve discovered that we’ve got a lot of common agendas, but also different perspectives on how to make communities better. And, we now have a website and blog to help get our ideas out into the world.
How did L.A. THRIVES get started?
After the passage of Measure R in 2008, we came to recognize that this huge investment – unprecedented in the whole country – in the expansion of the region’s transit system was silent with regard to the type of communities that would be built along the new transit corridors and the impact to the people already living there. L.A. THRIVES came together around a shared agenda of ensuring that people of all income levels have the opportunity to live along these new transit corridors, with access to jobs, education, healthy foods, safe and walkable streets, and all the amenities that make for healthy and thriving communities.
How do we get our act together as a community to make sure that the transit expansion has many winners and as few losers as possible? What do we need to do so that transit brings our communities a shared prosperity? A great example of reaching across silos to bring shared prosperity is the way Metro is dealing with the huge number of construction jobs created under Measure R. First, they are all good jobs, all union jobs. Second, ten percent of the work is being done by people that have a hard time finding work even in a great economy – people who are homeless, no GED, getting welfare, criminal history, veterans, etc. It wasn’t transportation planners at Metro who came up with this idea, it was the unions and LAANE working with community-based job trainers like PV Jobs.
Why is affordable housing near transit important? Why not just build lots of housing and let the market decide?
It’s important to have affordable rents near stations because most transit riders are low income – three quarters with incomes below $25K. If we ignore this reality we risk two things: huge social disruption in “hot markets” as people lose their homes and, pushing our riders away from the very transit they are using.
Building lots of housing is important and we need to do that. But we need more because we have a basic disconnect: new apartments rent for $2,200, affordable to someone in the $80-$90K bracket which is way more than our transit riders have. If we just let the market decide then we could end up with a bunch of luxury TOD apartments filled with people who own a couple of cars and like to drive. At L.A. THRIVES we think we need to work across silos to effectively address this kind of displacement. Read more…