California’s latest Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA)—the state-required estimate of the need for housing for people of all incomes over an 8-year period—projects that Southern California will need to provide more than 1.3 million new housing units, almost 60% of them affordable to moderate and low-income households.
The RHNA claims that LA County alone will need a minimum of 800,000 new units to meet the housing need through 2029—about 470,000 of which must be affordable to moderate and low-income families—and that the City of Los Angeles will need about 500,000 new units, more than half of which need to be affordable.
This asserted gap in the number of units being produced and the number of units that will be needed, especially units affordable for people who make less money, is what prompted Move LA to invite Peter Calthorpe and Joe DiStefano, who had co-created an online planning tool called UrbanFootprint, to our "Zoomposium" earlier this summer: We wanted them to estimate the potential to address this housing need by developing mixed-use mixed-income housing along LA County’s 2,100 miles of mostly commercial boulevards, and to join our Zoomposium panel discussion with Kome Ajise, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, and others.
These commercial boulevards are of special interest to SCAG and to Move LA for several reasons:
- First, commercial boulevards are already becoming obsolete with the shift to online shopping, a shift that is accelerated by concerns about coronavirus.
- Second, the pushback against new construction in existing residential neighborhoods is very strong, and for good reason. Building new homes where other people already live inherently means disruption, displacement, gentrification and also, probably, injustice.
- These commercial boulevards tend to be served by frequent transit, and provide the opportunity for improvements that could also make them safe for walking and biking, and enhancements including trees and urban greening to make them climate-safe and attractive.
Peter and Joe found that there are nearly 20,000 acres of land along streets zoned commercial in LA County, which would allow for the construction of up to 1.6 million homes—double the RHNA need even if development were limited to sites that are currently vacant or developed with just a one-story building on half the lot.
Here is what Kome Ajise, in his position as executive director at SCAG, which is responsible for the RHNA housing distribution, had to say about this potential (we highlighted key points). Or you can listen to him live on our Zoomposium HERE (about 1 hour and 4 minutes in):Read more
This is what Joe found:
"First let me go back to the statewide housing deficit, which exceeds 3.5 million new units. We know that more than 50% of California’s population cannot afford housing in the state they call home. That means that nearly 20 million people in the state are not able to comfortably afford a place to live. (You can watch Joe give his presentation here (about 45 minutes in) or just view his PPT here.)
“Southern California contributes to this challenge. From 2010 to 2017 the 6-county region added about 1.2 million jobs but just 160,000 homes. So the state’s latest Regional Housing Needs Assessment determined the need over the next 9 years for a staggering 1.3 million new units in Southern California—more than half to support moderate and low-income households. And just for context, the median home process across the region is about $600,000.
“This suggests a need in LA County alone for a minimum of 800,000 new homes to meet the need through 2029, about 470,000 of those in moderate or below-income categories. When you scale down to the City of LA, where the jobs-housing imbalance continues to apply pressure on the housing market, there is a need for about 500,000 new units in the city alone, and the median price is about $750,000—so well over half of the demand is for affordable housing.
“We applied our UrbanFootprint platform to estimate the development potential to address this demand along LA County’s pretty ubiquitous commercial corridors. It’s important to understand how much location and access to transportation options, transit access, and the ability to walk to services and access daily needs makes a difference in household and transportation cost burdens, and even energy and water use.
One of the highlights of our Zoomposium on Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity last month was a presentation by Peter Calthorpe, renown architect, urban planner, a founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism, and co-creator—with Joe DiStefano—of UrbanFootprint, a web-based urban planning and mapping platform.
Peter and Joe have used this tool to evaluate the housing potential along El Camino Real, a 45-mile mostly commercial roadway through the heart of Silicon Valley, in an effort to address California’s housing crisis. Their investigation, which was expanded to cover the five-county inner Bay Area, helps inform the increasing interest in using stretches of commercial boulevards that aren’t thriving—especially now given the interest in online shopping and concerns about the coronavirus—to provide mixed-income multifamily housing near jobs in walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented neighborhoods in California.
The video of Denny Zane's conversation with Peter is here and begins a little more than 28 minutes in. Peter's PPT is here, and below are excerpts from what he said:
“I have never seen a challenge as big as the one we’re facing with the housing crisis in California. We need systemic change if we are going to deal with the escalation in housing prices for working-class and low-income people who are being pushed out on the streets. It’s a tragedy of epic proportions, and the time has passed for incremental and piecemeal approaches. People are afraid of infill development because of the traffic it will create, and they don’t believe expanding the transit network will solve the problems—which is where Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity come in. . .Read more
Metro CEO Phil Washington made it clear at our Zoomposium on Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity that because voter-approved Measures R (2008) and M (2016) made Metro probably the most well-funded transit agency in the U.S., Metro is not just about mobility anymore, and not simply a big transit construction program. The agency is, in Washington’s words, “about investing in communities, delivering jobs, training programs, small business assistance programs—as well as new transit lines.” You can listen to the July 16 Zoomposium here (Phil's conversation with Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane begins about 7 minutes in.)
He noted that LA County’s predominant infrastructure investments in the past have been mostly to construct freeways with the goal of providing more mobility—investments that in the end have in large measure divided us. The Measures R and M era of investment is doing something different, he added, funding construction of new transit lines with the goal of providing access to opportunity—education, jobs, healthcare—to “uplift disadvantaged and low-income communities.”
Other topics he addressed: Safe streets, a 10-minute walk to the bus/train, equity and the impact of Metro's investment in communities, Metro's investment in housing affordable to households earning less than 60% of AMI (35% of 4,500 units), $75 million for active transportation, bus rapid transit, electrification of Metro's fleet and the jobs this will create, and a bright future.
“COVID-19 has demonstrated that people are willing to drive less, and to walk and bike more, so we’ve begun supporting communities through grant programs to pilot safe streets and provide more space where people can be outdoors as we shelter in place. COVID-19 has shined a light on the most pressing issues we face as a region, has made us see that burdens are not shared equally. We’re seeing that black and Latino communities are suffering from the virus at higher rates, that blacks and Latinos living in low-income communities and people with poor health are the most vulnerable to the pandemic. And we’ve seen that economic repercussions have only increased the need for affordable housing and policies to stabilize these communities.”
A 10-MINUTE WALK
“Equity is the most central part of the solution, not only to our recovery from COVID-19 but to the broader picture at Metro: The majority of Metro riders are from lower-income households. Metro has the highest percentage of low-income riders in the U.S. Chicago, my hometown, comes in second. But while we have the most low-income riders we also have the lowest fares among systems of our size. And our goal is to ensure that all residents are within a 10-minute walk of a transit stop—we made that very clear in our long-range transportation plan.”
Addressing CA's Affordable Housing Crisis, Traffic Congestion, VMT, Air Pollution & the Climate Crisis
Move LA’s policy brief on affordable housing (click here or below) proposes a program the state Legislature and local government agencies could approve to help address California’s affordable housing crisis while also helping to reduce traffic congestion, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and both air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
We believe that the crux of the state’s housing crisis is the specific and severe shortage of below-market-rate housing affordable to low- and moderate-income renter households. We also believe that expanded market-rate development, while perhaps important for other reasons, will not contribute in a significant way to solving this crisis of affordability.
And to address both our air pollution and climate challenge we recommend that: Affordable housing development should be a priority near transit service and should include safe and robust pedestrian and bicycle access as well as significant urban greening.
As a result of our affordable housing shortage, 1.7 million renter households with low, very-low and extremely-low incomes pay more than half of their incomes for housing. Another 1.2 million renter households—again, almost all low-, very-low, or extremely-low income—pay more than 30% of their limited incomes for housing.
Many of these households are families of color. This intolerable situation is a key driver of homelessness, which leads to reduced educational achievement among children who live in these households as well as increased medical problems among household members. This situation is also related to greater exposure to and worsened outcomes for the coronavirus.
Addressing the housing affordability concerns of these families is a significant equity and racial justice issue, and impose serious social costs as well as significant financial costs on the public. California’s senior population is especially at risk of intolerable housing cost burdens.
Our first foray into virtual programming was a huge success with our "Zoomposium" on Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity. With 600+ unique viewers and 13 panelists that included CEO, founders, executive directors, and industry leaders, we had a robust conversation on a strategy to address the housing crisis without displacement, gentrification, and neighborhood disruption.
The conversation started with presentations on opportunities to build transit and affordable housing by Metro CEO Phil Washington, UrbanFootprint co-founders Peter Calthorpe and Joe DiStefano, and Southern California Association of Governments Executive Director Kome Ajise. Vince Bertoni, Director of Planning for the City of LA, spoke about opportunities related to the built environment, as well as the history of redlining and top-down decisions made by the City of LA; and Metro's Countywide Planning and Development Senior Director Lauren Cencic spoke about Metro's vision for countywide Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Other speakers and topics included:
- Dr. Destiny Thomas addressed the issue of equity vs. justice and how we must not only address equity in the current system but replace an unjust system that resulted in the current inequities in housing, transit access and municipal services.
- Nancy Pfeffer highlighted the challenges of bringing much-needed housing, public infrastructure, and public transit to the resource-poor Gateway Cities.
- Tunua Thrash-Ntuk discussed the lack of funding and financing for affordable housing and the necessary conversation around minority ownership along these corridors.
- Joan Ling spoke about the incredible funding gap we have to actually build all the affordable housing we need so that residents are no longer rent-burdened and aren't being displaced or made homeless by rising rents.
- Romel Pascual talked about the joy he's witnessed during CicLAvia's events in so many LA communities, and how our quality of life is improved when streets are no longer just to serve cars but also serve people who can enjoy and thrive in their communities.
- KeAndra Cylear Dodds offered her perspective on equity and how Metro's evaluation of transit projects can both help and harm those who live in the communities where they are built.
- Cecilia Estolano provided a sum-up, saying that a more just and equitable society providing opportunity for all those in need must involve less D.A.D. (Decide, Announce, Defend) planning from government agencies and more M.O.M (Meaningful Organizing and Mobilizing).
We want to thank our fiscal sponsors: Community Partners, the Durfee Foundation, LA Metro, the Southern California Association of Governments, and UrbanFootprint. CLICK BELOW for links to the PPTs by the six speakers listed at the top of the page.
Presentation Slide Decks
- Phil Washington - Metro Update
- Peter Calthorpe - Scenarios Concept and Analysis (Part 1)
- Joe DiStefano - Scenarios Concept and Analysis (Part 2)
- Kome Ajise - SCAG Presentation
- Lauren Cencic - Countywide Bus Rapid Transit Vision & Principles Study
- Nancy Pfeffer - Arterial Corridors
Please consider joining Move LA’s “Zoomposium” TOMORROW (July 16) at 3 p.m. for a conversation with local leaders about a program we believe will help address our long-time need for affordable housing in transit-served, walkable, bikeable neighborhoods in LA County.
We are suggesting this could happen in places that haven’t been seriously considered before—underutilized stretches of the county’s many commercial boulevards.
Identifying appropriate sites for development is a major challenge to constructing new housing. Finding land along these urban boulevards would mean we wouldn’t need to upzone residential neighborhoods for more development and would also help avoid displacement.
UrbanFootprint co-founders Peter Calthorpe and Joe DiStefano will use their urban planning software to show us the possibilities along what we are calling Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity (read more about this on our blog). Email [email protected] if you have questions. Register HERE.
Globally, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, and nationally, the challenge to ensure racial justice, are all challenges that present us with generation-defining choices.
Locally, our need to provide sufficient affordable housing without displacing current residents and to end homelessness also presents us with generation-defining choices. And, as noted on Metro’s The Source blog this week, mobility in LA County is “at an intersection” and the choices before us "could be generation-defining.”
Black Lives Matter and the rising up for racial justice has brought a “renewed focus on the failures of our public systems, the disparate outcomes they produce, and the power structures and privileges that entrench them,” Nolan Borgman wrote on The Source.
Transportation is at an intersection, he also noted, because four months after the coronavirus forced California and LA County to virtually close down our economy, traffic is greatly diminished and many more people are walking and biking.
In this context, we offer a proposal we call “Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity” to help address the challenges before us, especially the need for affordable housing and for ready mobility.
Please join us, an impressive roster of speakers, and 400 registrants next Thurs., July 16, at 3 p.m. for a Zoomposium to discuss creating Boulevards of Opportunity. You can see who will be speaking, find more info, and REGISTER HERE.Read more
We’ve told you about our program to re-imagine stretches of commercial property along some of LA County’s underutilized boulevards—we call them “Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity”—with the addition of high-quality transit, especially bus rapid transit (BRT), and new moderate-density neighborhoods comprised of mixed-use, mixed-income, multifamily development.
Why boulevards? Because they offer significant opportunities for affordable housing without the displacement of current residents or businesses. Displacement is a major challenge when housing is built in existing neighborhoods, but most boulevards aren’t zoned for much housing. We believe that wherever there are homes or businesses, however, they must be protected.
Protecting against displacement and building robust affordable housing will help ensure that this development helps remedy rather than exacerbate historic racial injustices and concerns about equity. Building these neighborhoods near transit also addresses the problem that the people who ride transit the most are often priced out of neighborhoods with high-quality transit.
Join our online Boulevards of Equity & Opportunity Zoomposium JULY 16 at 3 p.m. to talk with an impressive line-up of transportation & affordable housing experts re: if, how, why & where Boulevards of Equity & Opportunity are feasible. REGISTER HERE. Speakers include Metro CEO Phil Washington & UrbanFootprint co-founders Peter Calthorpe & Joe DiStefano. All speakers are on the registration page.Read more
The world has become more challenging for all of us these past several years, especially recently. Move LA started building a campaign in 2007 to address LA's then soul-crushing traffic congestion. But we did not know then how deep our community's affordable housing crisis would be become nor how severe would become our crisis of homelessness. We knew climate change would be a generational challenge, but we did not know an IPCC report in 2018 would say we had but a decade to turn things around.
The important question for Move LA now is what can we do, together with allies and coalition partners, to help make progress on important issues related to clean transportation, affordable housing and smart land use over the next couple of years? Below are our priorities for the next decade.