Five years ago, Los Angeles planners created a new plan to guide growth in Warner Center, one of the San Fernando Valley’s most important commercial hubs. Since then, developers have flocked to the area to build housing targeted toward higher earning residents.
Affordable housing? Not so much.
According to figures provided to Curbed by Los Angeles City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield’s office, LA’s planning department has approved 2,502 units of housing since the Warner Center 2035 plan went into effect at the end of 2013.
To put that into context, in 2008, roughly 6,200 units of housing existed in the entire plan area.
But not a single one of the new units will be set aside for low- or even middle-income residents.
“We need to rectify this issue,” Blumenfield said at a meeting of the Los Angeles City Council’s planning and land use management committee Tuesday. “For the Warner Center to be truly transit and pedestrian-oriented, and to thrive in an economically diverse area, we need an economically diverse population.”
The average rental price in the larger Woodland Hills market, which encompasses Warner Center, is $2,143, according to CoStar.
In May, Blumenfield submitted a motion asking planning staffers to investigate ways to spur development of affordable housing in the area, including adding an “inclusionary housing” policy to the 2035 plan.
Such a plan would require developers of new residential projects to set aside a certain percentage of the total units as affordable housing.
Only one of LA’s neighborhood-specific planning documents, the Central City West plan, includes an inclusionary housing policy, and this element of the plan was invalidated by a 2009 court decision. Last year, the California legislature passed a bill correcting that issue and opened the door for cities to incorporate inclusionary housing in future community plans.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, city planner Tom Glick expressed concern that affordability requirements could scare off many of the developers who have gravitated to the area lately.
Glick told the committee that, since “linkage fees” on new residential projects were approved by the City Council last year, Warner Center development has slowed to a crawl.
“We’ve had zero filings,” said Glick.
If the city were to add an inclusionary housing requirement to the Warner Center plan, those linkage fees, which are used to fund affordable housing, would likely be waived. But developers would instead have to build affordable units themselves.
With almost 600,000 affordable units needed to meet demand, Los Angeles officials are struggling to encourage construction of housing targeted to low- and middle-income residents at a time when developers nationwide are primarily focused on building high-end residences.
A report from planning staffers suggests that LA leaders could also incorporate incentives into the Warner Center plan to entice developers to build projects with affordable units. Another option would be to impose an inclusionary housing policy that would allow developers to build fewer affordable units if they agree to pay into an affordable housing fund, or to include other features in their project likely to benefit the community (such as open space or grocery stores).
On Tuesday, the planning and land use management committee asked planning staffers to begin community outreach for an affordable housing component of the Warner Center plan.
“If we don’t get on this train soon enough, we’re going to miss opportunities for affordable housing,” said Blumenfield.