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Committee backs Chinatown’s College Station development without any affordable housing

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A separate city commission had supported the project on the condition that some of its 725 apartments be affordable

College Station
College station would sit at the same intersection as the Chinatown Gold Line station.
Via Los Angeles Department of City Planning

The City Council’s planning and land use committee on Tuesday approved the College Station project in Chinatown, but left out a contentious element—affordable housing.

In December, the city’s planning commission backed the developer’s plans to erect a five-building apartment and retail complex with 725 units on the condition that it include 5 percent affordable housing, the equivalent of 37 units for very low-income families.

That decision was supported by city planning staffers, but at Tuesday’s hearing, Atlas Capital pushed back, and the committee sided with it, approving the project as a completely market-rate development.

“The project has no legal obligation to provide affordable units,” the developer’s representative, Kyndra Casper, told the committee. Casper also noted that no one would be displaced by the development, as it’s slated to go up on an empty site at College and Spring streets, just east of the Chinatown Gold Line station.

Councilmember Gil Cedillo, whose district includes Chinatown, Highland Park, Lincoln Heights, and Westlake, acknowledged on Tuesday the citywide need for affordable housing, but said he was doing more than his part to help the city meet its goals.

Last years, councilmembers each pledged to build 222 units of permanent supportive housing in their districts, and Cedillo’s already has 676 units in the pipeline.

“We’re at 300 percent of the goals all of us agreed to,” Cedillo told the committee. (He also lightly chastised two other committee members, councilmembers Greig Smith and Bob Blumenfield, who represent areas that so far have zero and 13 units in the works, respectively.)

“We need it all,” Cedillo said of affordable units in general. “And I’m proud to receive it, but we don’t need it all in my district.”

A group of activists and neighborhood residents have consistently pushed back against the project because of its high number of market-rate apartments, which they see as hastening gentrification in the neighborhood. The development’s lack of housing for the neighborhood’s existing residents, most of whom are low-income, working class, and highly rent burdened, was also a target for criticism.

A number of community members who spoke out against the project Tuesday said that 37 very low-income units was too few. One speaker demanded that the project be built with 100 percent affordable housing.

The committee also denied three appeals to the project brought by the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, Labor International Union Local 300, and the Coalition for Responsible Equitable Economic Development, a labor group.

The appeals largely hinged on a handful of environmental issues with the site, including soil contamination, that the appellants said were downplayed or ignored in the environmental review of the project.

Final approval sits with the full City Council.