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Land Is Finite, but Housing Is Not, Manville Says

Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, spoke to Architectural Digest about Apple’s announcement that it would invest $2.5 billion to address California’s housing crisis. The plan includes converting a 40-acre plot of land the company owns in San Jose into space for affordable housing. Manville said much of San Jose is reserved for detached single-family homes, “making for very inefficient use of valuable land.” Residents may be hesitant to change zoning rules because they like how their neighborhood looks or the fact that their house has tripled in value, Manville said. But he urged, “We must build up, so that the same plot of land of one home can accommodate many families. You know, the elevator also exists in Silicon Valley.” The alternative, he said, is a place that has the economy of a megacity and built environment of a suburb, “and that’s simply not sustainable.” Manville concluded, “Land is finite, but housing is not.”


 

Monkkonen Research Informs New Model for Affordable Housing

An opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times juxtaposed a Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) plan to meet housing construction requirements with recommendations from Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy. Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to combat the affordable housing crisis in California with construction of 1.3 million new units of housing. The op-ed, written by the managing director of Abundant Housing L.A., accused the SCAG plan of “disproportionately dumping housing into the sprawling exurbs” while leaving wealthy cities with massive job pools alone. Critics say the SCAG plan will create a housing and jobs imbalance that will lengthen commutes and lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Working with Monkkonen, Abundant Housing L.A. researchers built a different model for distributing housing requirements that minimizes sprawl, prioritizes accessibility to transit and creates affordable housing where people want to live and have opportunities to work, the op-ed said.


Yaroslavsky on Future of Single-Home Neighborhoods

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, was featured on an episode of 89.3 KPCC’s “AirTalk” about the future of California housing policy. The state’s affordable housing crisis has increased the pressure for bills like SB50, which would increase the density of housing in single-family neighborhoods close to transit lines. The bill was shelved in the last legislative session, but a second iteration is returning with provisions that Yaroslavsky called “very minimal and cosmetic.” The need for affordable housing is dire, he said, but “there hasn’t been a thorough discussion about what the SB50 bill does.” According to Yaroslavsky, “New construction in California is not going to produce affordable housing — it produces high-end housing, market-rate housing.” He criticized SB50 for failing to “demand anything in return from the landowners” and suggested setting aside 40 to 50 percent of new units for affordable housing. “If you rezone all the single-family homes in California, you’re not creating more affordable housing but you are destroying communities,” Yaroslavsky said.


Lens on Governor’s Struggle to Meet Housing Goals

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was featured in a Los Angeles Times article describing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lack of progress on his goals to tackle California’s housing crisis. While Newsom’s campaign platform included plans for the construction of 3.5 million new homes by 2025 and a Marshall Plan for affordable housing, critics have pointed out that the state still faces a shortage of 1.7 million affordable rental homes. Newsom’s largest success so far has been a new statewide cap preventing large rent increases, and he argues that he remains committed to fixing California’s housing problems. Nevertheless, the state’s homelessness crisis has become even more pressing since Newsom took office. “It seems like a pretty meaningful failure — either a failure of commitment or a failure of effort,” Lens said. 


Image of housing in Los Angeles with skyline in the distance

Monkkonen on Affordable Housing for Moderate-Income Angelenos

Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to Curbed LA about the availability of affordable housing for moderate-income people in Los Angeles. Many residents must pay a burdensome price for shelter yet do not qualify for affordable housing because their annual income surpasses the $56,000 threshold. The Los Angeles City Council voted to examine why there is a shortage of housing options for these people. Monkkonen argued that studying the restraints on moderate-income housing development could lead to city policies that make it easier to develop more housing in the city. He said policymakers and the public believe only certain types of housing need to be built. More housing in general is needed, he said.  “All multifamily housing getting built quicker would help everyone, including middle-income residents,” he says.


 

Mukhija on Meeting Affordable Housing Needs

Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija held a wide-ranging dialogue about affordable housing with state Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) on the podcast Then There’s California. Mukhija’s research focuses on informal, makeshift housing in the United States and abroad. He has studied slums, border areas and farmworker dwellings but noted that unregulated and unpermitted shelter is becoming more commonplace in cities and suburbs. Wieckowski has sponsored legislation to remove barriers to the creation of granny flats, garage conversions and other so-called accessory dwelling units. “This can be a very reasonable way of adding housing supply from our existing physical resources,” Mukhija said. In addition to addressing the growing demand for affordable housing, regulated accessory dwelling units can bring in significant property tax revenues, he added.


 

Taylor on New Freeways, Same Old Congestion

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke with KCRW’s Greater L.A. program about several freeway expansion plans in the region. For motorists hoping the projects would bring lighter traffic, Taylor tempered expectations. As the region grows, more people and goods will need to move around and the expanded freeways will eventually clog up again, he said. The key to relieving congestion is charging for the use of the road, which is “wildly unpopular” among motorists and elected officials, he said. The urban planning professor also linked the planned High Desert Freeway project, which would connect Palmdale and Lancaster with the Victorville area, to the affordable housing debate in the L.A. Basin. With resistance to higher-density housing near L.A.’s transit corridors, “we end up building out on the fringe, and then we have to accommodate the demand for the traffic out there,” he said.


 

Newton on Subdivisions, Strip Malls and Sprawl

Public Policy lecturer Jim Newton commented on suburban sprawl in a New York Times article about the demonization of developers. Homebuilders, who once personified progress and opportunity in the United States, are now often vilified as unscrupulous characters driven by greed, the article said. In many cities, developers are blamed for the shortage of affordable housing; the irony is that remedying the shortage will probably require yet more development. Newton weighed in on the trend toward housing subdivisions and mass production to save time and money. “If you drive through the San Fernando Valley, you wouldn’t feel like someone did all of that because they were driven by a desire to create community, or that they were really modeling their housing on aesthetics,” he said. “It’s just a bunch of houses and strip malls.”


 

Lens Weighs In on Rent Control Bill

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to Curbed LA about Assembly Bill 1482, which would bar most property owners in California from increasing rent more than 7 percent, plus the cost of inflation, in one year. The bill would also require landlords to have just cause, such as failure to pay rent, when terminating a lease. “We’re definitely at a time more tenant protection in California generally — and especially L.A., San Francisco and other hot markets — is necessary,” Lens said. Advocates say the bill, if enacted, would protect up to 4 million Californians from rent gouging and arbitrary eviction. Opponents say it could deter developers from building at all. Lens pointed out that the 7 percent cap on rent hikes may be too high to have significant impact. “There’s a really small number of homes in which a landlord in a given year is even mulling a 10 percent hike,” he said.


 

Monkkonen on Bringing All of L.A. Into the Housing Effort

Curbed LA spoke with UCLA Luskin’s Paavo Monkkonen about efforts to provide affordable housing in every part of Los Angeles. City planners have been instructed to develop recommendations that require all neighborhoods to help meet L.A.’s affordable housing goals.  One option is “inclusionary zoning,” which would require new residential developments to include units that low-income renters can afford. Some developers argue that this policy would dissuade them from building new housing in the city. Monkonnen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, said inclusionary zoning would be a good start. But he added that it would not have much impact on single-family neighborhoods with little land zoned for multi-family buildings. “A better idea would also be to rezone a lot of land for multi-family and combine it with inclusionary zoning,” Monkonnen said.