Opinion: Detroit Bungalows Issue Likely to Show Where People Really Stand on Affordable Housing

Architec's rendering of the proposed Blue Hibiscus project on Detroit Avenue.
Architect’s rendering of the proposed Blue Hibiscus project on Detroit Avenue.

WeHo’s Design Review Subcommittee on Thursday will take a look at an affordable housing development proposed for Detroit Avenue that has is likely to shed some light on where some of West Hollywood’s most vocal opponents of new housing development really stand when it comes to affordable housing.

The development at 1125 N. Detroit St. is known as the Blue Hibiscus project. The developer is the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (WHCHC), a non-profit organization that builds and rehabilitates housing for low-income and other disadvantaged people. WHCHC announced plans last year to buy the adjacent lots at 1123 and 1127 N. Detroit St. with the intention of combining them with the Detroit Bungalows site next door. The Detroit Bungalows consist of two 1920s era buildings with a total of 10 units that have been in relatively poor condition because of their age. Robin Conerly, president of WHCHC, has said they originally were built for farm workers and that estimates a few years ago for upgrading them ranged from $500,000 to $1 million, and still wouldn’t bring the units into compliance with city codes.

The Detroit Bungalows
The Detroit Bungalows

Dr. Pamela Love, a resident of Detroit Bunglows, launched a campaign against the demolition of that property that has drawn support from several outspoken opponents of denser development including Cathy Blaivas and Stephanie Harker. Blaivas is City Councilmember Lauren Meister’s appointee to the WeHo Historic Preservation Commission and Harker is Meister’s appointee to Rent Stabilization and Housing Commission. Michael Wojtkielewicz, Meister’s appointee to the city’s Disabilities Advisory Board, frequently speaks out at public meetings against WHCHC. Meister has been outspoken against what she sees as too much development in West Hollywood. The issue has been a political hot button for a while: Heidi Shink and Cole Ettman, unsuccessful candidates in the March and June campaigns for West Hollywood City Council, showed up at the Detroit Bungalows during their campaigns to express their support for keeping them.

Love has offered a variety of arguments against replacing the bungalows, ranging from the need to preserve a building built in the 1920s to the fact that the current residents like living there and shouldn’t have to move and that she and others don’t want to be displaced for the time it will take to build the new affordable housing development. Lately Love has objected that WHCHC won’t allow her to receive a federal rent subsidy. However WHCHC wouldn’t be able to move Love out of the Detroit Bungalows property during the new development if it authorized that subsidy. Love has made her arguments in a flurry of emails to a wide array of elected officials and media outlets and with a Facebook page called “Save the Detroit Bungalows.” The debate has been littered with false statements, including that the current residents won’t be eligible to move into the new building, all of which have been refuted by Robin Conerly, WHCHC’s executive director.

Dr. Pamela Love with WeHo City Councilmember John D'Amico
Dr. Pamela Love with WeHo City Councilmember John D’Amico

Conerly has pointed to the fact that the new building will more than double the number of affordable housing units now provided by the Detroit Bungalows as well as provide high quality housing.

While comments at Thursday’s meeting are supposed to be focused solely on the project’s design, it is likely that a number of public speakers will raise the affordable housing and development density issues. Some opponents of new development, such as Cynthia Blatt, have argued in the past that West Hollywood does not need more housing for low- and moderate-income people. But given the unpopularity of that stance in a city dominated by renters and founded on preserving renters’ rights, Blatt and others have shifted their stance to argue that the city does need more affordable housing, but that it should not be included in market-rate housing projects, as has typically been the case.

Instead, they argue that developers should give money to the city’s affordable housing trust fund so that the housing for lower-income people can be built elsewhere, an approach that some see as segregating the poor from the affluent and difficult to implement given that West Hollywood is the 16th most densely populated city in the nation.

So it will be interesting Thursday night to see what arguments can be made against the Blue Hibiscus project by those who are opposed to more development and who also say they support construction of more affordable housing. After all, the Blue Hibiscus project clearly is that.

The Design Review Subcommittee will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Plummer Park Community Center, Room No. 5, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd. at Martel.


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Manny
Guest
Manny

Steve, you say “residents obviously are not happy about potentially being displaced”…..which residents?…..Other than the person pictured above with the council member, what other residents now feel that they are being “displaced” or are not satisfied with the arrangements made by WHCHC?

Just asking…..It’s important to hear from them directly.

Steve Martin
Guest
Steve Martin

So folks who hold contrary opinions are “splitting the community”? Oh please. This community has been polarized for a long time due to differing visions of our City’s future. If we had consensus about how our neighborhoods are developed then some of our pro-development City Council members would not need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get re-elected. The problem is not differing opinions or visions of the future; debate should always be a good thing. Perhaps we all just need to take a few steps back on occasion to actually listen to what the other side is… Read more »

chris britton
Guest
chris britton

Right you are, luca d. It is a crime that these charming old structures are being demolished in favor of new, souls cheaply constructed pieces of crap. It is a pity that there is an epidemic of this taking place. It is also pathetic that Whchc will not answer any questions truthfully regarding their latest vomitous project.

MIke
Guest
MIke

Touche Jimmy! Yes some commissioners are crossing the line with their personal opinions and should not serve if they cannot keep an open mind. And one council member seems to ‘hit the ground running’ with these commissioners that are making things harder for progress and splitting the community. Instead of putting a positive light on the future the same people do not allow the better future to unravel. Its a shame that these tenants think they have the right to prevent others from having affordable housing.

luca d
Guest
luca d

i see, if you appreciate and enjoy your neighborhood as it is, and you do not agree to tear down your home and let the city build another monster property, you’re a racist? sustainable, benevolent, omg, this is commuspeak socialism without regard for living peaceably and unmolested. but, “THEY” want it, and “THEY” are going to take it. this city is a joke of double speak and lies. affordable housing, yeah, for how long and for who? no worry, “THEY” will decide. i love the line about it could take a million dollars and the present bungalows would still not… Read more »

Jimmy Palmieri
Guest

To those who are yet again starting a web of lies, this project is exactly what we need. The residents will be welcomed back, and yes, although an inconvenience in the short term. look at the long term. ALL OF THEM will be welcomed back. They also will be given money to cover rents until they are back in their homes. I am not by any stretch saying this isn’t an inconvenience for some people, but I really think the naysayers, need to stop spreading fear and lies, and be honest about this. THE TENANTS ARE BEING WELCOMED BACK WITH… Read more »

Rudolf Martin
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Rudolf Martin

Very thoughtful comment, SaveWeho, I agree with your nuanced take.

I would say that the question that will show where people stand on affordable housing in WeHo is: Will the current tenants pay the same rate for their new units and treated fairly in the transition?

The design of the building is a huge upgrade from what we’ve seen lately.

Manny
Guest
Manny

This well designed building has it all….It’s sustainable, benevolent and forward thinking.

Those are all characteristics that communities and individuals should aspire to achieve.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

“‘Preserving the character of the neighborhood’ is just code word for ‘we don’t want minorities or poor people around here’ to many people nowadays.” Right because the overdevelopment of WeHo has attracted so many low-income and nonwhites to West Hollywood. Oh wait, WeHo has basically devolved from an ethnically and economically diverse village to a crowded playground for wealthy whites. Is this development actually going to have affordable housing, or just $2,000/per person “affordable housing” like all the other approved developments in the past twenty years that haven’t made living in WeHo affordable? No? Well at least it will allow… Read more »

Larry Block
Guest
Larry Block

Unfortunately for the current tenants at the Detroit Bungalows the demand for affordable housing is so great and the land is so valuable. One would think they would understand the need and support the ‘gift’ of affordable housing for those lucky enough to get a unit at Blue Hibiscus. I’ve met Pamela and visited the Detroit Bungalows. Dr. Love has done a fantastic job of fighting to keep the Bungalows. I’ve also seen the letters and read the guarantee from WHHC that these tenants will be allowed to return to the same location once the project is complete. The tenants… Read more »

SaveWeho
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SaveWeho

I think we need to praise the architect and the folks at WHCHC for this. When was the last time we saw a new building that didn’t look like stacked packing crates? And its a nod to the spanish/mediterranean style. I think it looks great! The separate issue of affordable housing is important too. I used to be a supporter of the Detroit Bungalows..but I’ve changed my position. While I appreciate the fact its “home” to these folks…we have to remember they are living here on behalf of affordable housing dollars. They are probably paying about $400-$600 a month for… Read more »

Franz
Guest
Franz

‘Preserving the character of the neighborhood’ is just code word for ‘we don’t want minorities or poor people around here’ to many people nowadays. It’s time to call some anti-development folks out for their veiled racism.