Opinion: If Not in Your Backyard, Then in Whose Will Affordable Housing Go?

Last night’s West Hollywood Planning Commission meeting was a love fest.

Homeowners on North Kings Road wore buttons proclaiming “Go 826” to proclaim their support for the 826 N. Kings Rd. project now that the developer has agreed to lower the height of the proposed building from five to four stories and to eliminate housing there for low- and moderate-income people. Members of the Planning Commission said they were thrilled that the developer and the homeowners who had opposed the project had worked out a compromise that made everyone happy. Indeed the evening was cause for celebration for everyone except that one group that didn’t make the meeting — those people who are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to afford to live in West Hollywood.

Development Venn diagram by Dr. Bruce M. Firestone
Development Venn diagram by Dr. Bruce M. Firestone

Yes, the Kings Road developers, Peter and Dimitri Damos, have pledged to give $1 million to the city’s housing trust fund in lieu of adding the affordable housing units that would otherwise be required by city law. And the local homeowners said they were thrilled that the developer had done so. Cynthia Blatt, who led the opposition to the 826 N. Kings Rd. project, said such in lieu contributions will help the city build housing needed for the elderly, the disabled and young people who can’t afford WeHo’s market rate rents and housing prices. (That is a marked and politically smart shift from her position in April when, in a memo opposing the project, Blatt said, “The City of West Hollywood has built so many affordable housing units that it has completely satisfied and massively exceeded all requirements and all reasonable expectations for the creation of affordable housing.”)

Cathy Blaivas also praised the revised plan and objected to opponents of the original plan being characterized as “NIMBY’s.” Blaivas assured the Planning Commission that she and others aren’t opposed to more development. They just want carefully managed development. And they want developers to be able to pay fees to the city to build affordable housing elsewhere rather than require them to include such housing in expensive condo and apartment buildings.

So where is “elsewhere” in this densely populated and completely built-out city of 1.89 square miles? If Blatt and those like her have their way, it won’t be in their backyards. For example, while Blaivas told the Planning Commission last night that developers should be allowed to pay fees to fund affordable housing, she also stood before the city’s Disabilities Advisory Board on Wednesday night to object to the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation’s plans to build such housing on Detroit Street on her side of town.

So while the Planning Commission and homeowners who don’t want more development in their neighborhoods celebrate together, who will speak for the nearly 80 percent of West Hollywood’s residents who are renters and are subject, even with rent stabilization laws, to real estate market forces? Who will speak for those creative people who want to move to West Hollywood but can’t afford to? Who will acknowledge that this is a city where two-story buildings will inevitably become three-story buildings and three-story buildings will become four-story buildings unless we want to price all newcomers out of our housing market?

We’d like to see West Hollywood renters band together and organize their own local version of Coalition for Economic Survival (CES), the tenants’ rights group that campaigned in 1984 to have West Hollywood incorporated as an independent city dedicated to keeping housing affordable. Someone has to show up at Planning Commission and City Council meetings to remind appointed and elected officials that the NIMBY’s who regularly address them don’t represent the vast majority of  West Hollywood residents, and that West Hollywood is everyone’s back yard.


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Tom
Guest
Tom

What are the names of the people known as F.A.P. that the rent money goes to for WHCHC.
Who actually makes the money?

Steve Martin
Guest
Steve Martin

Just for the record, a bunch of us, including Lauren Meister and Allegra Allison, did band together during the last General Plan process and demanded that “in lieu” fees be abolished and all affordable units be built on site. The City Council declined to adopt that position. So some of the folks who deride the so-called NIMBYs might want to think about how some of our long term City Council members manipulate this issue.

Lynn
Guest
Lynn

Oftentimes Steve, it’s not the message but the messenger. In your own words, you and your compatriots “demanded” and when you didn’t get what you wanted you brand the council members manipulative. What happened to the art of negotiation?

tom
Guest
tom

This sight is dreadful, if you put WHCHC, THE JOHN STEWART CO. OR F.A.P. in a bad light you won’t be acknowledged, right Mike Dolan? You with the rose colored glasses.

jeromecleary
Guest

to: fine7760: you are exactly right there was always an original Plan B to the Gateway project for affordable housing that to this day has never been addressed or done! Why?

SaveWeho
Guest
SaveWeho

I think the WHCHC is doing a good thing. There are not many developers who are actively building multiple Affordable Housing bldgs in town. So we need to encourage them to keep building. When a building goes up…there can be 50-100+ or more apts available at one time. Now compare that to the 5 units in Inclusionary Developments. You’ll need 20 developments to equal that. I do think there needs to be a better process for the assignment of tenants to these Inclusionary Units. If I’m not mistaken, the city outsources this process to a company called the John Stewart… Read more »

fine7760
Guest

The most outrageous incident was that those from the Russian community were placed ahead of everyone else simply because they had left Russia, the former Soviet Union. These people were not fleeing to save their lives but merely deciding to come to America, come to West Hollywood where they can live among themselves and enjoy cheap rent at the expense of those who were born here and indeed were in need of affordable housing.

Rudolf Martin
Guest
Rudolf Martin

Interesting opinion piece but bluntly vilifying those you disagree with makes it seem more emotional than thoughtful. I rather agree with JMS that we’re all missing the point while bickering and I still have a hard time buying into what I see as a false dichotomy repeated here: Mandating some low and moderate income units still doesn’t make oversized developments of expensive condo and apartment buildings a benefit to the renters of West Hollywood, except of course for the lucky few who win the lottery and get to live in them. Many profess concern for mysterious “creative people who would… Read more »

Larry Block
Guest
Larry Block

This discussion about on-site affordable housing versus in-lieu payments to build units elsewhere has reached a crescendo in my mind. I’ve come down on the side of keeping affordable housing integrated in all developments instead of in-lieu payments that will build a new development (years and years after in-lieu payment is made) and house all persons of low-income in one building. Integration is the only and fairest way to build affordable housing that encourages diversity. There’s a bunch of us who want to work together for more affordable housing solutions. Please email me at larryblock@hotmail.com and lets band a group… Read more »

Jimmy Palmieri
Guest

@Snake….”Please Jimmy, Karen, Mike, Chris, Don et al, PLEASE COME TO EVERY MEETING AND SPEAK AGAINST THE DEMOLITION OF MIDDLE CLASS HOUSING”….Please don’t imagine that you now my involvement with every case as you don’t. I have been a boardmember and commissioner for more than a decade. Not every one of us can physically attend EVERY MEETING, and believe it or not, we use the tool of wehotv.org, and then contact , as ANY person can via email, our council with comments or agreements/disagreements. I was liason to planning for two years and watched the meetings on wehotv.org. I could… Read more »

tom
Guest
tom

It’s time to put on a production of “Cats.” meow.

Manny
Guest
Manny

@JMS….Goverment can only do so much. I agree that “more affordable” open market rentals and condos should be built. But we still live In a free country and we can’t, nor should, completely control free enterprise. That is why the 8899 Beverly Project is so relevant in this debate. That project could have been all the things you described. Fifty two smaller “more affordable” open market condos and 20, not 15, affordable units equitablly spread throughout the building. All built within the current building’s size. But the city, at their full discretion, it had no legal obligation, changed the zone,… Read more »

JMS
Guest
JMS

Has anyone watched the David Simon HBO miniseries “Show Me A Hero”? I think it beautifully articulates the issue that’s being discussed here. It helped me understand the necessity of affordable housing being enacted in a way that is aligned with its purpose. Apart from accusations of racism or classism, the NIMBYs here have legitimate concerns about property value depreciation and the like, but if they can stipulate that the idea of low-income housing is a good thing, then you should also want it to be effective — putting the affordable housing in less desirable parts of town (or god… Read more »

joetheplummber
Guest
joetheplummber

I guess we could some this up as Ms. Blatt and Ms. Blavis being very pleased that the people of West Hollywood are are getting $1,0000,000 to the City’s affordable housing trust fund instead of 5 or 6 permanently affordable housing units. This is a bit like when my wife’s sister would send the kids $5.00 for their birthday. We made them send a thank you note even though there was really nothing the kids could really buy for $5.00. Sometimes the kids would pool their gifts because their birthdays were pretty close and we would kick in some extra… Read more »

Lynn
Guest
Lynn

Good Morning Cassandra’s Snake: I missed your comments bringing 1216 N. Flores into the conversation. The project went through several iterations prior to being accepted. The former owner lost its entitlements and is now in the hands of a downtown developer who I met while it started its way through the process again. This particular project had very direct input from members of your core group who then praised its final design. Now some of these individuals have, if I am correct, filed two appeals against the project hoping for a second and third bite out of the apple. No… Read more »