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Posts from the "Transit Oriented Development" Category

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Editorial: Four Ways To Encourage Transit-Friendly Affordable Housing

Metro should pursue joint development beyond the five rail lines under construction, including sites like this bus parking on Wilshire Boulvard just east of the Vermont/Wilshire station. Image via Google maps

Metro should pursue joint development beyond the five rail lines under construction, including sites like this bus parking on Wilshire Boulvard just east of the Vermont/Wilshire station. Image via Google maps

I’ve been thinking about Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s recent motion to help Metro partner on joint development of affordable housing near stations. Also, Garcetti-ally L.A. City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell expressed support for reducing parking requirements in new affordable housing developments along transit corridors, to “help lower construction costs and therefore rents.”

A new report this week, joins previous reports with similar findings: Los Angeles is one of least affordable places to live in the U.S., second only to Honolulu.

So, I figure it is time to offer some of my sage advice.

I don’t know that Garcetti, O’Farrell, Metro, or city departments need my advice, but I’ll go ahead and offer four suggestions on how Southern California can foster transit-oriented affordable housing. None of these are easy. They would involve different governmental agencies operating on different timelines. But perhaps a number of these measures could combine over time to overcome some of our systemic biases for sprawl and against infill transit-oriented development (TOD) and make a dent in L.A.’s affordable housing shortage.

1. Additional Metro Joint Development Sites

Garcetti’s motion [PDF] to the Metro Board of Directors encourages housing at Metro owned-sites on the five new rail lines under construction. These are good places for affordable housing, but there are a lot more joint development sites among Metro’s holdings. It is possible that some projects that I am not aware of could already be underway at some of these sites. Here are three categories of additional Metro site that come to my mind:

  • Existing stations: Just in my Koreatown neighborhood, I’d like to see joint development of affordable housing on top of the Vermont/Beverly and Vermont/Santa Monica Blvd/LACC Red Line stations. These aren’t big vacant lots (like some of Metro’s Boyle Heights vacant lots, currently in early development stages) so housing would likely be directly over the station portal, similar to Hollywood/Western Red Line Station.
  • Existing transit parking lots: I think that there are fairly low-hanging fruit opportunities for development at the stations that are at the end-of-line until further extensions open: Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station and Culver City Expo Line Station. I know Metro tried and failed to jointly develop the San Fernando Valley Red Line parking lots, in part due to excessive replacement parking requirements. It’s going to take some creative architect/developer to balance some needs for parking at these sites (in the short run.) They’re not going to go from 100 percent parking to 100 percent housing overnight, but they should remain under consideration for future joint development, ideally, mixed-use affordable housing with retail.
  • Existing Metro bus parking areas: It bugs me that, on prime mid-city real estate on Wilshire Boulevard at Shatto Place, immediately east of the busy Vermont/Wilshire Red Line station TOD, Metro has a large bus layover surface parking lot that appears 95 percent empty 95 percent of the time. It looks as though Metro employees park cars there, too. Yes, Metro needs bus parking in this area and I expect that bus parking inside a building isn’t easy; it’s going to need high ceilings, large turning radii, etc., but it is not rocket science. The Wilshire surface lot could be jointly developed as affordable housing on top of Metro bus parking, hopefully with walkable, maybe retail, frontage on Wilshire. There’s another similar bus parking site at 6th Street and Oxford, just around the corner from the Wilshire/Western Purple Line station.

2. Separate “Un-Bundle” Parking from Housing

Right now, when someone rents or buys housing in Southern California, the price automatically includes a couple of parking spaces. Whether you use them or not. For homebuyers, this can mean $20,000-$30,000+ per parking space. This parking is “bundled” with the cost of the housing. Cities can un-bundle the parking, with individuals and families renting/purchasing only as many parking spaces as they actually use. Un-bundling is L.A. City policy in some areas, mainly the recently-approved Cornfield-Arroyo Seco “CASP” plan area north of downtown L.A. Un-bundled parking is a staple in adaptive re-use projects downtown, too. If you live in a building that doesn’t have parking, and you need parking, then you rent parking space nearby.

Read more…

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Garcetti Motion Encourages Affordable Housing At Metro Stations

California's Strategic Growth Council has awarded the city of Los Angeles a half-million dollar grant for a study that will make it easier to build infill housing in Transit Priority Areas, similar to this transit-oriented development above the Metro Red Line Wilshire/Vermont Station. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

A Metro motion passed today should help the agency play a significant role in joint development of affordable housing at Metro stations, similar to this housing at the Wilshire-Vermont subway station. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Earlier today, the Metro board of directors passed a motion [PDF] encouraging Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) and affordable housing.

The motion may give some indication of where the board’s newest chair, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, hopes to take the agency. Garcetti has been a vocal proponent of siting affordable housing along transit lines. Garcetti authored the motion and shepherded its passage in the face of concerns expressed by other Metro boardmembers.

The motion helps Metro to play a greater role in fostering affordable housing at its rail stations and along its transit corridors. There are six components to the motion; the agency will: (full text in this PDF)

  1. Inventory current and potential future joint development sites along Metro’s Gold, Expo, Crenshaw/LAX, Regional Connector, and Purple Lines.
  2. Partner with local cities and L.A. County to work together to invest in transit corridor sites, potentially leveraging municipal housing funding.
  3. Set a goal that a minimum 30 percent of Metro’s jointly-developed housing will be affordable housing.
  4. Allow property value discounts to incentivize affordability.
  5. Collaborate on the creation of a Countywide Transit Oriented Affordable Housing (TOAH) loan fund.
  6. Establish a TAP purchase program for residents of joint development housing.

The motion directs Metro CEO Art Leahy to report to the board in February 2015 with a preliminary assessment of the above. From its preamble, the motion readies Metro to support the region in taking advantage of new State of California programs that will grant cap-and-trade funds to promote Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC.)

The motion was approved at last week’s executive committee meeting, so it could have sailed through this morning without debate. Boardmember Diane DuBois removed the item from the meeting’s consent calendar. Though DuBois ultimately voted in favor of the motion, she offered a long list of concerns, including: Metro shouldn’t “dictate” affordable housing goals, Metro doesn’t have authority over land use, affordability targets will discourage development, existing TAP outlets are sufficient, and affordable joint development is “diverting transit dollars.”

Overall, Dubois’ comments encouraged Metro to tightly focus on its mission to provide transit, hence joint development would merely “generate value” that the agency can use to fund transit.

The motion was then defended by its co-authors, Garcetti, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Garcetti-appointees Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker and Mike Bonin. Garcetti cited a recent report showed that L.A. City has the least affordable rental housing market in the nation.

Councilmember Bonin stressed that Metro does have significant influence over development, and that it was a “moral imperative” to play a role in addressing the great need for affordable housing. Overall, Garcetti and these co-authors affirmed that Metro’s mission does extend beyond the strict boundaries of its stations, and that the agency plays a big role in the quality of life in transit-adjacent communities.  Read more…

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More Housing, Less Sprawl: Tackling Los Angeles’ Affordable Housing Crisis through Smart Growth

It is no secret that Southern California is currently facing one of the worst housing crises it has faced in more than half a century.

Eric Garcetti is a long-time believer in density built around transit. Photo:##http://endinggridlock.org/blog/congratulations-to-las-next-mayor-eric-garcetti##Angelenos Against Gridlock##

Eric Garcetti is a long-time believer in density built around transit. Photo:Angelenos Against Gridlock

That’s the point Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti drove home Wednesday at the Los Angeles Business Council’s annual Mayoral Housing, Transportation, and Jobs summit.

While it isn’t a revelation to most that it’s getting harder and harder to be poor or even middle class and afford to live in Los Angeles County – especially in westside cities like Santa Monica – it was refreshing to hear Garcetti address the root cause of this crisis: a lack of new housing being built.

But even more refreshing was to hear Garcetti, who currently chairs Metro’s Board of Directors, talk about making sure new housing – especially units affordable to low and middle-income residents – gets built next to the region’s expanding transit system.

At the summit, Garcetti announced his plan to increase L.A.’s housing stock by 100,000 new units by 2021. At the same time, he announced his intention to bring a motion before the Metro board to “analyze affordable housing preservation and construction around our transit system, from using MTA-owned land and targeting transit-pass programs.”

Does that mean we may see some of those sprawling surface parking lots redeveloped into places where middle- and low-income residents – many of whom rely on public transit for their daily commute – can live?

Studies have shown that lower-income residents will leave their cars at home 50 percent more often than wealthier residents if they live within a quarter mile of reliable public transit.

Placing affordable housing near transit is a major tool in combating these issues, which is one reason why State Senator Darryl Steinberg fought for a generous portion of the California’s cap-and-trade money to be used to subsidize transit-oriented development.

The reality is, Garcetti said, that without growth, especially near transit, the region’s problems will only get worse. While the housing crisis may be evocative of the post-war era, regional leaders seem to realize that sprawl – the answer to our mid-century housing crisis – is not the answer today. (In case you didn’t already realize it, sprawl is really bad for people, the environment, and the economy.) Read more…

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Guest Editorial: Dreaming Big About Rail Lines, Grand Boulevards, Bus Rapid Transit and Measure R2

The proposed Lorena Plaza development. Source: ACOF.org

The proposed Lorena Plaza development. Source: ACOF.org

(Move LA’s mission is to build a broad constituency that will advocate for the development of a comprehensive, diverse, robust, clean and financially sound public transportation system for Los Angeles County. Denny Zane is the executive director. Gloria Ohland is the policy and communications director.)

More and more people — from elected officials to bike and pedestrian advocates — are talking about projects that could be funded if a transportation sales tax measure is put on the November 2016 ballot.

Most recently, for example, Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian stood in front of the TV cameras with a host of heavy-hitting transportation leaders from San Fernando Valley to advocate conversion of the super-successful Orange Line to light rail, and an extension to Bob Hope Airport, then Glendale, then Pasadena.

Other cities and their councils of government are dreaming big as well.

It’s all possible if voters have the opportunity to approve the right measure. Move LA is using a “strawman” proposal of funding ideas to gin up a “let’s dream big” conversation about the sales tax, which some are fondly calling “Measure R2” in acknowledgment of its predecessor — the Measure R half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2008 that is building the five new rail lines underway now.

The proposed 45-year half-cent sales tax “strawman” could generate $90 billion for transportation. The centerpiece is, as it was in Measure R1, significant expansion of the rail system. But we have another favorite in our strawman proposal — a transformational “Grand Boulevards” program. We propose taking 5-10 percent of the $90 billion for cities and councils of governments to invest in reviving and reinventing several-mile, multi-community-long stretches of maybe 15-20 arterials around L.A. County as transit-oriented boulevards that promote economic development as they pass through more than one community.

This money could fund both conventional and sustainable transportation improvements, from repaving and signal synchronization to clean, green, cool, and complete streets with more bus service,  better bus stops with real time arrival info, and wider sidewalks and bike lanes. It could fund landscaping and other community improvements that would make the boulevards appealing places on which to live and shop, and there would be incentives for transit-supportive mixed-use community development. Funding it could help leverage and implement L.A. Mayor Garcetti’s Great Streets program!

It’s important to remember that this is a transportation sales tax and must be used for transportation purposes. But what if 30 percent, a significant share of the funding in the Grand Boulevards program, were set aside in a competitive pot for cities willing to promote transit ridership by permitting moderate-density mixed-use transit-oriented development (TOD) along these grand boulevards?

This extra funding for transportation projects could be made available to those cities willing to permit apartments over shops and other housing that’s affordable and appealing for young people, aging Baby Boomers and others who want to be able to live without a car — and who can do that because it’s easy to walk and bike and take transit instead. Read more…

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Steinberg: CA Cap-and-Trade Must Fund Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing

Negotiations over the California state budget are producing dueling proposals on how best to spend revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program.

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Senator Steinberg proposes affordable housing as a greenhouse gas reduction strategy. Photo courtesy TransForm.

While Governor Jerry Brown continues to call for a third of the cap-and-trade funds to go to CA high-speed rail, Senate President ProTem Darrell Steinberg last week expanded upon his alternative proposal to spend a larger share of the revenue on affordable housing and transit at the local and regional level.

State cap-and-trade funds are collected under the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, A.B. 32. The law provides a way for companies to meet a state-mandated cap on greenhouse gas emissions by buying “pollution credits” produced when others exceed emissions reductions. Estimates vary on how much revenue the program will generate, but it could produce billions each year between now and 2020.

Standing in front of an active construction site for new housing units near Oakland’s MacArthur BART station last Thursday, Steinberg called for permanent sources of funding for affordable housing, mass transit, and sustainable communities development. The Senator argued that  California is facing a “catastrophic funding crisis” as affordable housing bonds run out, and noted that the transportation sector is the state’s biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

“Californians are logging more vehicle miles annually than ever before,” Steinberg said.

Behind him, a forklift raised a load of lumber high up in the air, with an attached sign reading, “At least 972 lbs of CO2 emissions reduced every day.” That’s the amount by which  the housing project, which will provide 624 housing units next to the BART station, is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to other housing developments. Of those apartments, 108 will be leased at below-market rates. Read more…

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CA Transportation Choices Summit Tackles Policy Issues

The California Transportation Choices Summit, held in Sacramento this week, was an opportunity for sustainable transportation and public health advocates to spend the day learning about current state policies and legislation in the works to change them.

Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento, discusses bike infrastructure on a pre-summit bike tour along the Sacramento River. Photos: Melanie Curry

This year’s summit was titled “2014: A Year of Opportunity.” The “opportunity” comes in the form of new funds from cap-and-trade and current discussions in the legislature about how to spend that money. As Streetsblog has reported, these funds are required to be spent on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which could include projects that encourage walking, bicycling, and transit.

The annual summit is hosted by TransForm and a long list of partners across the state including ClimatePlan, MoveLA, Circulate San Diego, the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, National Resources Defense Council, and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. In addition to discussing current policies, the learning day prepared attendees for TransForm’s “Advocacy Day,” in which participants meet with State Assembly members and their staff to talk about the issues that matter most to them and push for legislation.

Summit speakers laid out facts about funding, discussed trade-offs between spending on different programs, and urged everyone to share their personal stories about why their issue is important. “Let’s pull those heart strings,” said Elyse Lowe of Circulate San Diego, “so we can do a better job advocating for good transportation policies.”

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, created an “applause-o-meter” to gauge summit attendees’ views on trade-offs between funding categories. He asked participants to applaud for the categories of activities they thought were most important: planning; bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure; transportation demand management programs like shuttles, carpool programs, and guaranteed ride home programs; affordable homes near transit; and transit capital and operating costs.

The audience, mostly comprised of savvy transportation advocates, applauded for all of these categories, although there two clear “winners”: affordable homes near transit and transit capital and operating costs. These also were the most expensive categories, according to Cohen’s estimate of how much it would cost to fully fund needs in these areas: $6 billion for transit and $1 to $1.5 billion for housing. Read more…

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Los Angeles Revisits Its Zoning Code via “re:code LA” Process

The city of Los Angeles Department of City Planning is hosting a series of seven community planning forums running now through April 12th. Tonight’s forum is at Metro HQ in Downtown L.A. from 5-8pm. The forums are for public feedback on three citywide planning processes: re:code L.A.Mobility Plan 2035, and Plan for a Healthy Los Angeles. Streetsblog is previewing the citywide initiatives; today it’s the city’s zoning code update. See earlier SBLA coverage of the Health Plan and Transportation Plan.

From re:code LA website - the original zoning code pamphlet from 1946, next to the 1978 and 2013 versions

From re:code LA website – the original zoning code pamphlet from 1946, next to the 1978 and 2013 versions

L.A.’s Department of City Planning (DCP) has been busy with three initiatives that have the potential to shape livability for many years to come. The three plans are for health, transportation, and, well, something that just doesn’t lend itself to a jargon-free soundbite: modernizing the zoning code.

Zoning code is the city’s set of rules that mostly determine what can be built, where it can be built, and how it’s used. It specifies various aspects of development from how tall a building can be, how much signage is allowed, what industries are allowed in what areas, and how much off-street parking is required.

Here is a sample from the current zoning code:

Off-Street Automobile Parking Requirements. A garage or an off-street automobile parking area shall be provided in connection with and at the time of the erection of each of the buildings or structures hereinafter specified, or at the time such buildings or structures are altered, enlarged, converted or increased in capacity by the addition of dwelling units, guest rooms, beds for institutions, floor area or seating capacity.  The parking space capacity required in said garage or parking area shall be determined by the amount of dwelling units, guest rooms, beds for institutions, floor area or seats so provided, and said garage or parking area shall be maintained thereafter in connection with such buildings or structures.

The new zoning code effort goes by its nickname re:code LA, billed as “A New Zoning Code for a 21st Century Los Angeles.” Of the three citywide initiatives, re:code arguably the least comprehensible to the general public and the least far along. The re:code project started in 2013 and is expected to be completed in 2017. 

From this early in the process, the final results aren’t entirely clear, but a lot of re-code work appears to be neutral; it’s mostly re-writing and re-organizing rules that are already in place. Generally, the re-write doesn’t change policy. If you work in an commercial area, re:code won’t change it into a residential area. Zoning has been established for every part of Los Angeles, and re:code generally won’t be changing what’s approved. It will add new options that can take effect later. The format will change, too. Instead of a paper pamphlet, it will be a whizbang contemporary user-friendly web-based document.

For example, if a neighborhood has too many liquor stores, the new code won’t change the number of liquor stores allowed, but may provide streamlined rules that could help limit future liquor stores. Generally, that streamlined rule wouldn’t go into effect when re:code is adopted in 2017, but would become available to be later added to local planning documents – community plans, specific plans, etc. So, don’t expect to see any re:code changes affecting your street any time soon.

Read more…

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Is CEQA Reform Truly on Its Way? If It Is, Should We Be Happy or Worried?

California Forward released this video last November making the case for CEQA reform on transportation issues.

There are nine days left in the legislative session in Sacramento, and there is still no vote scheduled in the Assembly on SB 731, Senator Darrell Steinberg’s efforts to “reform” California’s landmark environmental protection law, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). SB 731 passed the Senate earlier this year.

Followers of the statehouse seem unsure whether the legislation will pass in the last days. Those that believe the effort is doomed point to Steinberg’s recent introduction of legislation that would exempt the construction of a basketball arena in Sacramento from CEQA as proof the Senator doesn’t believe SB 731 will pass. Others note that the Senator is still shopping amendments to 731, something a powerful senior senator wouldn’t do at this stage unless there was a clear endgame.

Further complicating issues, Governor Jerry Brown has hinted he may veto 731 even if it does pass. The governor that once proudly declared he “never met a CEQA exemption he didn’t like,” is worried that if 731 becomes law, stronger legislation won’t pass in future sessions.

So with nine days left for the legislature to make a move, the fate of CEQA reform is unclear. But for environmentalists and other supporters of Livable Streets, the question of whether reform of CEQA is something that should be avoided or applauded remains difficult. Most of the legislation deals with public review and other legal matters. But two significant issues, infill development and the measurement of transportation impacts are major issues to transportation advocates and environmentalists who have been involved in legislative negotiations.

Despite some high-profile examples of CEQA being used to stop or slow environmentally friendly projects, most notably the multi-year delay inflicted on San Francisco’s bike plan, NRDC Senior Attorney David Petit thinks the law “is working well now” but that improvements can be made to encourage more infill development in transit priority zones and encourage greater use of renewable energy.

At the NRDC’s Switchboard, Petit argues that CEQA is a valuable piece of law because it empowers citizens to enforce the law through legal challenges instead of vesting the power in a state agency. Less than 1% of projects that fall under CEQA review are ever brought to court, and most of the time the courts side with the developer over the citizen groups.

While stopping short of saying he supports SB 731, Petit states that portions of NRDC’s position on CEQA reform are included. Read more…

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Welcome to “The Avenue Hollywood”, Another Anti-Pedestrian Project

Mixed-use developments are rising all over Los Angeles, particularly in Hollywood and West Hollywood. Some buildings look better than others, though sadly none show the classic architectural spark that once existed in the early 20th century. Nevertheless, most new projects aim for common goals: sustainability and improved pedestrian infrastructure.

But not all mixed-use projects follow guidelines on creating pedestrian environment. Some developers continue constructing 1980’s-style automobile-oriented buildings, without adequate streetscape or aesthetics. A classical example of an anti-pedestrian development is The Avenue Hollywood, located in the heart of Hollywood, on La Brea Avenue just south of Hollywood Blvd.

From a distance, we see an attractive, modern midrise building, designed with good contemporary standards. And unlike most other low-to-midrise buildings, The Avenue Hollywood building is based on concrete and steel – not wood. Therefore the building is much more durable and offers better fireproofing and soundproofing.

All pictures by Alexander Friedman

The new complex certainly enhances the appearance of otherwise dull La Brea Avenue. But then one starts to wonder, why don’t you ever see pedestrians near the new development? Likewise, why is every single ground retail space still empty, with distinct “For Lease” signs?

Let’s find out what went wrong with The Avenue Hollywood, and why hasn’t a single ground-level space been occupied by any type of vendor.

The Avenue Hollywood offers a half-dozen spaces for ground-floor retail, and 5-6 levels of apartment renting. Location is very convenient: just next to the famous Hollywood Walk-of-Fame, Hollywood & Highland shopping mega-center, and a popular Red line subway station. Thus The Avenue Hollywood sits on a perfect transit-oriented development location.

But once you approach the complex, first good impressions dissipate. A grim reality of concrete & cement starts to unveil. Lack of pedestrian activity or amenities makes you want to walk away. The building surroundings indeed are cold and unwelcoming. Read more…

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ELACC’s Design Charrette Illustrates that Affordable Housing Doesn’t Have to Be Depressing Housing

Attendees at ELACC's design charette for apartments to be built at 1st and Soto in Boyle Heights. (photo: Sharis Delgadillo)

How about a funeral parlor? deadpanned the older gentleman to my right in Spanish. You shouldn’t have to go so far to die.

And a florist, the older lady to my left added with a knowing smile. For the funeral parlor…

Touching my arm, she continued, And a sweets shop… before finally collapsing in giggles.

Yes, of course, I said, laughing, because if you’re going to die, you might as well have enjoyed yourself.

We were at a design charrette run by the East L.A. Community Corporation (ELACC). They had put the event together to inform Boyle Heights residents in need of affordable housing about their plans to convert an existing 7-unit structure at 1st and Soto to one that would hold about 50 units.

After the facilitators spoke about their affordable housing projects, selection criteria, and other logistical information, they broke the attendees up into 3 groups of 8-10 people. Each facilitator then led the group through an ice-breaker and a discussion of the kinds of amenities people might enhance the new, transit-oriented site. ELACC had already planned for the basics — now, they wanted to know more about the specific kinds of things people might like to grow in the (proposed) 4000 sq. ft. garden, activities or facilities that would be part of the community space, or businesses that could fill the commercial spaces below the apartments.

The suggestion of a “funeraria” came up as a potential business, I guessed, because of the gentleman’s earlier observation that most of the attendees at the event were well above the age of 50.

I wonder if it is only older people that need assistance with housing, he had said to me, looking around the room. You don’t see too many young people here.

It was an interesting observation. Read more…