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LA takes a stand against SB 50

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City leaders say the bill doesn’t go far enough to encourage the production of affordable housing

By Walter Cicchetti/Shutterstock

The city of Los Angeles is siding against Senate Bill 50, with elected leaders arguing not against density—but market rate housing.

On a 12-0 vote, the City Council adopted a resolution opposing the bill, which seeks to allow apartment and condo buildings up to five stories tall near some bus stops and train stations, even in areas zoned strictly for single-family homes. The goal is to increase the supply of housing and drive down prices for both renters and buyers.

But councilmembers argued the bill would encourage more market rate housing that Los Angeles does not need, without protecting existing affordable housing and promoting more of it.

“What we need is more, and in some cases, denser housing in Los Angeles,” said councilmember David Ryu. “But we also need housing that serves the communities that we represent.”

Councilmember Koretz—who has rebuffed the bill because it could add density in low-slung, suburban neighborhoods—expanded his criticism today.

“There are so many reasons to oppose SB 50 that it’s almost difficult to know where to start,” he said.

Koretz rejected the supply and demand theory of housing and suggested that Los Angeles has already approved enough new housing permits.

“There’s no sign that building luxury housing, even in large numbers, would reduce the rent,” he said.

“In Los Angeles, we already have densified,” Koretz added. “We have around 100,000 units [of housing] that have been approved and not built already, so there doesn’t seem to be that much of a point.”

While Los Angeles is on track to meet the mayor’s goal of producing that many units by 2021, it has failed to build enough affordable housing.

As of last year, the city had produced less than one-quarter of the low- and very low-income units needed to satisfy its 2021 targets, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

“We need to build more affordable and workforce housing, but we need more tools to do this,” said Ryu.

SB 50 would require cities and counties without certain affordable housing requirements to include affordable units in buildings with more than 10 units. In buildings with more than 351 units, for example, 25 percent would have to be set aside for low-income tenants.

Developers could also opt to pay an in-lieu fee for affordable housing off-site, although that has been noted as an area of concern from a coalition of affordable housing advocates.

It would also bar developers from building on property that has been occupied by renters in the past seven years—a displacement prevention provision that the Central City Association of Los Angeles argued goes “far beyond those provided by the city.”

“Despite what others are telling you, this bill is first and foremost about affordability and sustainability,” said Shane Phillips, the group’s public policy director.

But councilmembers disagree.

“It doesn’t do enough to stop displacement,” said councilmember Mike Bonin. “It has to do a hell of a lot, a hell of a lot more, to get us a lot more affordable housing, and have real significant protections in there to protect what exists now.”