Why We Need Abundant Housing

by leonoraahla3 min read29th Apr 20213 comments

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Funding RequestLand Use Reform
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What AHLA does

Abundant Housing LA is broadening public engagement in housing policy to achieve solutions at scale. 

We combine policy analysis with local organizing to identify opportunities for upstream solutions to the housing crisis and ensure 

Abundant Housing LA is LA’s loudest pro-housing voice. We are working to ensure that all 88 cities within Los Angeles County have a voice in local growth and identify strategies to add housing in a way that will promote social equity, quality of life, and sustainable economic growth. 

The need

Like many metropolitan areas around the US, Los Angeles County is experiencing a housing and homelessness crisis.

Even with thousands of affordable and permanent supportive housing units in the pipeline, rental costs have been outpacing wage growth and housing insecurity is on the rise. As recognized in the 2019 homeless count, increasing numbers of people are becoming newly homeless due to rising housing costs. To meet the need, the County of Los Angeles needs 516k additional units of affordable housing to meet the housing needs of low-income renters.

Los Angeles—and indeed all of California—need solutions far upstream; individual developments are necessary and worthwhile efforts, but the housing crisis must be solved holistically and decisively.

Why Abundant Housing

Abundant Housing LA believes that affordable housing must be achieved through system-level policy reforms that clear regulatory barriers to affordable housing production. 

Produce scalable templates for housing elements that can be easily replicated for smaller cities

Our accomplishments

Abundant Housing LA has laid the groundwork to make an impact at scale. We have mobilized 10 local chapters around the County. 

Our goals 

Abundant Housing has put forth a recommendation to allocate housing to high-opportunity neighborhoods, and to neighborhoods with good access to transit and jobs. We support this approach because:

  • Many high-opportunity neighborhoods have historically avoided adding new housing through exclusionary zoning. This drives up the cost of housing in these areas, and limits them to residents with high incomes. Ending exclusionary zoning by adding housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods will reduce segregation, provide residents with more housing options, and reduce displacement as expensive areas satisfy more of the city’s total demand for housing.
  • Adding housing in highly desirable neighborhoods will lower rents throughout Los Angeles. This means that residents will have more disposable income, which is good for Los Angeles residents and the local economy. 
  • More homes near jobs and transit means that more Angelenos can get to work without driving long distances. This means greater economic opportunity, shorter commutes, less traffic, and lower carbon emissions. Denser infill housing near jobs and transit also shifts development away from environmentally-sensitive areas, which helps preserve green space.

Scale and impact

Abundant Housing LA is targeting the statewide Regional Housing Needs Assessment Process (RHNA) and its implementation on the local level,  the Housing Element Update, as key vehicles to transform our approach to housing development. 

The state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) for L.A. County of 813,000 total homes (472,000 Affordable) was based on calculations of what will get L.A. County to rent burden rates matching those of the U.S. as a whole. (24.7% of people spending more than half of their income on rent). 

AHLA’s analysis also predicts that if the cost of rent for the lowest-income households in Los Angeles  (i.e. those at the 10th percentile of income) were to decrease to 30% of household income over the course of five years—assuming that the housing market absorbed low-income households without frictions—the number of homeless residents of Los Angeles County would fall by more than 20,000 people.

Our ask

FAQ

I don’t like cities, so why should I support density? 

Density makes communities more affordable, livable, diverse, and sustainable, and supports a stronger economy. But density doesn’t have to look like skyscrapers and highrises. In fact, “missing middle” medium density, like townhomes and four-plexes, provide space for a large amount of housing capacity. Allowing more of these types of buildings in single family areas creates enormous benefits and helps address major long-term problems.

Primarily, more supply helps prevent souring housing costs. Cities that allow lots of new housing have lower housing costs than places with highly restrictive zoning. By modernizing their approaches to housing development regulation, states and localities can restrain unchecked housing cost growth, protect homeowners, and strengthen their economies

Socially, more multifamily housing increases diversity and leads to better schools and environments for children. And environmentally, dense housing is more energy efficient, makes communities’ ecological footprint smaller, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions from car commutes.

Why don’t you take money from real estate developers?

Abundant Housing LA seeks to maintain independence from real estate developers. Since we advocate for housing projects, we choose not to take money from real estate developers in order to prevent a conflict of interest in our advocacy process. Furthermore, our policies do not always align with those of developers, especially in the case of development in greenfield environmental space. 

I thought real estate was an investment. Why would I want it to get cheaper? 

Soaring housing costs may be a good investment for some, but overall, they are economically destructive. Businesses lose customers and employees as people leave unaffordable areas. More housing, however, builds a better economy. If we drove rents down, and people started moving to where the best jobs are, the US economy would grow by $1-2 trillion a year. On top of that, more housing reduces car usage and dependence, and it means more walking and biking. Walkable neighborhoods are good for you and can prevent obesity and lower rates of heart disease. Long commutes, on the other hand, are slowly killing you.

I don’t live in LA. Why should I be interested in your work? 

Housing policy is fundamentally a local issue, since it is local jurisdictions that decide where and how to allow housing. Achieving housing abundance on a larger scale requires problem-solving on the local level. Abundant Housing LA is doing the work to create solutions and build a model for housing abundance everywhere.

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3 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 10:20 AM
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On the one hand I'm in favor of more housing. I live in the SF Bay Area where this is also a problem, and really insufficient housing is a problem for all of California, so I'm naturally supportive of efforts to address this problem. However, I'm not sure this project is a high priority for EAs.

This seems like something that's not especially neglected (lots of people are thinking about ways to improve the housing situation in American cities) and also unlikely to have high impact in relative terms (viz. globally rich Americans are not suffering as much due to expensive, limited housing in desirable cities as the global poor, animals, or far future beings (in expectation)). Cf. ITN framework for why I'm thinking about these criteria.

I think it would be hard to convince me this is working on something neglected, but I'm pretty open to the idea that I might be wrong about impact, especially if better housing in American cities is somehow on a critical path to other, more obviously higher impact projects. I'd be interested if there are better arguments for why this is impactful enough to be prioritized over other, more obviously high impact causes.

Hi Gordon, thank you so much for your comments. 

While housing gets a lot of attention in California, land use and zoning reform is politically unpopular. 

Land use and zoning is an extremely cost-effective way to impact economics, racial justice, and the environment. In California, the approach to housing is to invest in raising money for affordable housing, which doesn't address the systemic root causes of the housing shortage. Meeting our housing needs just through subsidized affordable housing, in LA County alone, would cost more than 500 billion dollars.  Additionally, a McKinsey Global Institute report estimates that the housing crisis is costing the California economy between 143 and 233 billion dollars per year. On the other hand, land use and zoning is basically free (other than the staff cost of implementing it) and has a major effect on affordability -  https://www.hamiltonproject.org/papers/removing_barriers_to_accessing_high_productivity_places

Abundant Housing focuses on opportunities to make a maximum impact with minimal resources. In 2019, the Coastal Plan we advocated for created housing targets for the region that would get us to national rates of rent-burden and overcrowding, as well as get our GHG emissions on track for state climate goals. That's through advocacy in a single administrative process, which few people pay attention to.

Have you looked into Street Votes? The idea is to allow individual streets to hold a vote on whether to change their zoning to allow e.g. everyone to add an extra floor. Many housing reform policies hurt existing homeowners, who are then motivated to oppose them. This idea is to make deregulation a win-win-win, by allowing them to capture a lot of the value creation.

Also, minor, but the link here does not mention anything about schools:

Socially, more multifamily housing increases diversity and leads to better schools and environments for children.