Opinion: WeHo’s Pricey Housing Will Push Gay People Out

West Hollywood is one of the best-known small cities in America. It’s known for a diverse array of reasons — its rock n’ roll history on the Sunset Strip, its Russian population and, of course, as a gay mecca. Since the city’s incorporation in 1984, West Hollywood (or “WeHo” as it is affectionately called) has led the way when it comes to a safe haven for LGBT people.

James "Duke" Mason
James Duke Mason

Slowly but surely, however, that has started to change. And it has changed for the same reasons that things have changed in other cities, such as San Francisco and New York. There has been a slow increase in the cost of living and the cost of housing, and that has caused the gay community in some of our major cities to dwindle, to essentially disappear — gay people simply can’t afford to live or move here anymore.

West Hollywood is at the beginning of that process. Many point out that the city’s percentage of gay men (43 percent) is around the same as it was 30 years ago, which is true. But as a member of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, as well as a member of the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation board, I have a unique insight into these issues.

Yes, the percentage hasn’t changed, but that’s primarily because because most of those gay men are the same ones who have lived here since 1984 — in their rent-controlled apartments or homes they bought many years ago. There is a large segment of affluent gays who don’t have to worry about the cost of living in West Hollywood these days — but what are things like for those who do?

The housing crisis in West Hollywood is a microcosm of what is happening across this country, and not just in the gay community. Our nation’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julian Castro, said recently that there are millions of Americans who spend more than half of their income on their rent every month. That is a disgrace, and something we must work to change.

Many of those Americans struggling with housing costs are seniors, the disabled, or people who are low-income. It is essential that we expand the opportunities and alternatives for these people as much as possible. And that’s why I’m grateful for organizations like the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, of which I am proud to be a part, that are building more affordable housing across our city as well as across the region, so that more people have a chance to succeed and thrive without the fear of being evicted or losing their home.

I believe that a mix of more affordable housing, plus building a more diversified housing stock that people of all kinds can actually afford (micro units, for instance, that are primarily geared toward young people), are the solution to this problem. We as a society have got to start thinking differently, to start thinking about things bigger than ourselves. As the saying goes: “Each day you’re living not just your own life, but the life of your times.” These are the times in which we live, this is the civil rights issue of our time, and we must address it.

This article was originally published in the Advocate magazine.


26 Comments
  1. The problem is not one of WEHO but one of the entire region. Not enough homes have been built in the past two decades to accommodate the natural growth of the native population, let alone the masses from other states and countries who want to immigrate here.

    Rent Control, nor micro units are a solution. They only push the prices of everything else higher while lowering the quality of life. These solutions squeeze out the middle class, leaving a SF like city of filthy rich and a few poor living in places as small as a jail cell.

    Short of some mass exodus of people, the only solution is to encourage building throughout the entire LA region. It has to be a coordinated effort between all of the cities that makeup the county. The only way to affordable housing is for supply to exceed demand.

    Sadly WEHO has little it can do on its own. If it opens itself up to developers without LA City or Santa Monica doing the same then it loses its identity and turns into a high rise jungle overnight. Conversely if it goes into full NIMBY mode and blocks all development then it becomes a cramped 2 story time capsule only rich people can afford to live in.

    LA desperately needs a leader who’s had the fight in them to bring all of the communities together to build into the future. Else we’re the next SF, a city of rent and mortgage slaves living in cramped quarters.

  2. Steve Martin: “if we want to preserve the character of our community we need to keep OUR rent controlled buildings intact.”

    Last I checked these rent controlled buildings are private property. They arent OURS, they don’t belong to you or the City. Our Constitution guarantees right of ownership of private property.

    If the City wants them it should build them or buy them for fair market value. .

    The City should put a price cap on City employee salaries and use the cost savings to build housing for all of us.

    Then we can all call it OURS.

  3. W. Hollywood has one of the most radical rent control laws in the country. Radical rent control has done nothing in 35 years in Weho but encourage tenants to hoard units and discourage developers from building new housing stock. When a government expropriates private property and socializes private enterprise, be it in Cuba, Venezuela, or the People’s Republic of Weho, you scare the bejesus out of anyone wanting to go into the apartment rental business.

    The W. Hollywood rent control zealots simply made it so onerous to be in the apartment rental business that when the scarce supply of land made apartment buildings more valuable torn down than operating with under market tenants, longtime mom and pop owners zips or to luxury developers.

    So what’s your answer? STRONGER legislation to try and make rent control laws MORE Draconian?

    Haven’t you learned the lesson over the last 35 years that when you try and legislate over supply and demand, you make it MORE expensive for new residents, not less?

    That hoarder who lives by himself in the 2 bedroom and pays $600 is responsible for your high rent.

  4. There are only 15 cities in the state of California that have some form of rent control, if rent control were the problem, why are nearly all areas of California unaffordable?

    I would argue the problem lies more with housing supply than it does with rent control.

  5. 30 years from now when rent control is completely phased out, we’ll see a more competitive and even rental market.

    But until then, there’s no stopping landlords from selling those unprofitable rental properties to developers for land value.

    It’s not that complicated.

  6. I agree with @alison. I think small spaces isn’t necessarily healthy. It might be ok for younger people temporarily..but I dont believe they are healthy long term solutions. And having them built might present new issues. With no mass transit nearby…parking will forever be an issue. They will probably have a huge turnover rate, poor quality and construction, and basically turn into something like a dorm atmosphere.

    This is an interesting article:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/12/the-health-risks-of-small-apartments/282150/

  7. While I agee with some of the comments that the piece lacks specific solutions, I salute James Duke Mason for writing the piece and WeHoVille.com for reprinting as it has begun one of the most constructive dialogues I have seen occur here on WeHoVille.com comment section.

    Ignoring the few here that simply point fingers of blame (as if this problem is something isolated to West Hollywood), I am encouraged by the comments from people who seem to have a sincere desire to find solutions to this extremely complicated issue that at times, you have to step back and ask yourself, what is it that I am trying to solve for?

    The high pricing and demand for housing will not be solved without adding to the supply; yet in a City as dense as the City of West Hollywood, building more housing units generally results in the demolition of lesser expensive existing units.

    We must preserve the existing rent controlled units, but doing so pressures non-rent controlled prices upwards with only short term relief for current tentants of rent-controled units due to Costa-Hawkins’ vacancy de-control. While the temporary relief to current tenants cannot and should not be viewed as insignificant, in a City with such a large number of senior residents already in their 80’s and 90’s, simply preserving rent-controlled units and doing nothing else is short sighted and will result in an even larger disparity in the not so distant future when those rents shoot up to market rate.

    I think it’s obvious even from this short list of 20 comments, there are no three people who agree on a single plan to solve the housing issue, but I think, if we all committ to working together to achieve progress creating a community that provides a mixture of housing as we’ve been doing (housing for the low- and very-low income households, moderate/workforce income, upper-middle class, and wealthy too!) then we will find a way.

    I hope we all can keep in mind that this is a complex issue that is being worked on by all levels from grass roots to top government officials, there is no single solution so we need to look at and utilize ALL the tools in our tool box, recognize that there will be much give and take along the way, but if we work together chipping away at the pieces here and there, we will all be much better off than if we sit and do nothing, or worse yet, only blame others for consequences of our successes of past 30+ years.

    For those who want to follow this issue more closely and see what other efforts are being worked on around the state, visit http://www.housingca.org and sign up for their newsletter to keep up to date on pending legislation at the state level.

  8. My finance and I are thinking of moving to Vegas or Portland. For 300k you can buy a 5 bedroom house vs 400sq foot studio condo.. Prices are ridiculous I make upward of 90k a year but owning your own business California kills me..

  9. I don’t think there is any escaping the free market. This is turning into a city for affluent people (gay and straight), which will, in turn, change the demographics to be older (because older people tend to make more money). It remains to be seen what will happen to gay culture here, as a result, knowing that young people will need to live elsewhere, and visit. Perhaps all of Los Angeles will just become more integrated (case in point: 3 gay bars opening downtown in the last 6 months). I would love for West Hollywood to maintain the “gay” part of its identity, but I think all neighborhoods are going to be integrated, in the near future, partially as a result of these economics.

    I am in support of the building of micro-units. At least these give young people another option for living here. I know a lot of younger people who rent out living room space just to create an affordable place to live in this city. When I was in my twenties, I didn’t mind living in a small space (studio) … I was just happy to be able to afford to live in the area.

    What also adds to this is the proliferation of straight people in West Hollywood Santa Monica Blvd bars/restaurants, which include The Abbey and Pump. West Hollywood is now seen as “hip,” and straight-friendly, and the gay bar culture is slowly fading, or becoming more integrated.

    Steve Martin, how does the city protect existing housing stock, other than not provide incentives to demolish? In other words, how does the city incentivize building owners to take care of their crumbling buildings, while a lot of them wait for a big cash out, which often results in expensive condos or apartments? This is a real problem that is often identified, but I’ve yet to see anyone provide a real solution to it.

  10. The City puts a lot of emphasis on creating “affordable” housing while ignoring the obvious need to protect the existing stock of rent controlled housing. Rather than trying to keep existing buildings on the market, the City provides incentives to demolish. We need to create dis-incentives toward demolition to put the brakes on the steady loss of rent controlled units. Everyone, gay and non-gay, needs housing they can afford; if we want to preserve the character of our community we need to keep our rent controlled buildings intact. So far City Hall seems determined to destroy the character of West Hollywood in order to “save” it. Development for the sake of development may be good for raising campaign contributions at election time, but it has come at a huge price. Let John Duran and John Heilman sell their souls for campaign contributions but they don’t have to sell the soul of West Hollywood in the process. After all, the campaign reports don’t lie.

  11. I’m against micro-units as a solution for low income or affordable housing. The thought of putting seniors or disabled people into those tiny units makes my blood boil. It’s like caging us. Micro units are fine for younger people who WANT them. Now, this is just my opinion, and some seniors might like the small spaces of them, but not me. I would go stir-crazy.

  12. 30 years now since owning a house or three in Echo Park, Silver Lake,and Hollywood Hills (after also having been renters in LA and NYC) and then owners up the Hudson Valley, moving 18 times (for work reasons) in our 35 years together, a question: Does anyone care about neighborhood stability in this mania of demolition taking over WeHo, the falsely-proclaimed “progressive city” now tearing itself down?

    Ty Geltmaker/James Rosen

  13. I’m strongly opposed to these “micro-units”. I believe they will drive the cost of existing and future apartments even higher. What you will see happen are these micro units will assume the pricing of what a studio is today. So I’m guessing they’ll start around $1300+. These units will basically shift the pricing spectrum higher. Unless you put some kind of rental cap…it will only make the cost of living here worse.

  14. Weho does a good job creating “affordable housing” through it’s inclusionary housing requirement and through in-lieu fees. Developers also find the city attractive enough to invest in ultra luxury rentals and condos.

    But what about the middle? Is Weho emulating 1950s Cuba, where there were only the rich and the poor?…..(that didn’t go over well)

    I’m not sure government can reject supply and demand, but occasionally it has the discretion to reject a developer’s wishes to change neighborhood zoning rules just so they can overdevelop properties to accommodate multi million dollar condos.

    Shouldn’t government, when it has the chance, create and encourage housing not just for those who need assistance but for those in the middle?……So far, this city doesn’t seem interested in taking advantage of those rare chances.

  15. I’m guessing the high prices of real estate will push all people out and that is not limited to ‘gay people’. Some might say that single gay men or women who don’t have children could actually afford to ‘stay’ more than their gay counterparts. Not sure the logic of high housing costs that limit who can ‘buy in’ versus the notion of pushing people out because of their sexual orientation.

  16. I tend to agree with Normandywells. In the past, when I have rented, as the rent increased, I moved if I could no longer afford to live where I lived, no matter how much I loved it or how long I lived there. I was renting the property, I did not own it. I wasn’t under some misguided notion that I had some God given right to live in a particular town/city. I knew that If I wanted to live in a better neighborhood, I had to work really hard to educated myself and get a good job so I could afford a nice place. West Hollywood has improved some much in the last 30 years that more and more people want to live here. Prices have gone up and that’s life. That’s the way the system works. I’m all for setting aside low-income affordable housing for senior and the disabled. When it comes to healthy, able-bodied citizens..gay or not…you have to work hard to own your own land/home and to live where you want to live. There are no guarantees, and there is no entitlement.

  17. Two problems with “affordable housing”:

    1) Those who choose to have a job–yes, I used the word “choose”–make too much money to qualify for affordable housing, but then are totally screwed, without a kiss, because of the high cost of rent, which forces them to struggle week-to-week. So this notion of “Affordable Housing” is a joke and a slap in the face of every working person out there.

    2) Who pays for this affordable housing? Johnson promised us the Great Society over 40 years ago. And in the in the shadow of that failure, Obama has blithely promised even more. Under the first year of Obamacare, my insurance went up 26%, this year 13%. I received a merit increase of over 7% this year; the government took half. So where does this end???? We were promised this Great Society for 40 years now, with the government taking more and more of OUR money to piddle with it, and the end result has been a steady stream of urine down our backs. The left vilifies the rich and people like Trump. The real villains are those who promised, failed to deliver, and in spite of these failures keep on trying, but with each try, take more of our money. As Margaret Thatcher said: The problem with socialism is that you end up running out of other people’s money to spend.

    As far as microunits. We’re talking about the size of a jail cell. Reminds me of Eisenhower’s quote: If you want total security, go to prison. Well, looks like we’re heading his advice.

  18. Great article. But I don’t know how any one can be greatful of WHCHC when it has done nothing with 7292 Fountain Ave except let it become an unsafe slum for people to live in. You would have to live or have lived there to see that a blind eye has been cast in that direction. Jon Stewart /WHCHC shame on you.

  19. So…other than pointing to an obvious situation and giving blanket statements such as “create more affordable housing,” what are you saying here? These words are useless. Give some specifics, such as establishing rent control across the entire city and putting a $1,200 ceiling on the rent that can be charged for a 2BR apartment. I personally don’t know if that’s legal, but it’s specific and people can understand that.

    Also, what exactly is “affordable housing”? What’s affordable for one person is not within the budget of another. Can the city put a ceiling sales price on units in these new condos that the planning commission is approving carte blanche? If you want WeHo to continue to be a city of young gays (replacing the older ones as that segment inevitably dies off), young gays are apartment renters, not home buyers. So if you’re just talking sale prices, that’s not at all helpful.

    Your op/ed piece is very nice, Mr. Mason, but it is very safe and short on specifics, as if you wrote it just to keep your name in front of the voting public. Be bold here and give tangible ideas. You’re not running for office…yet!

  20. Where is all this “in lieu” money (an amount a developer pays to WeHo to NOT create affordable units in their new buildings) going? In November 2015, what is the total amount? How many affordable housing units are being created by WHCHC (which, ironically, is NOT a part of the City of West Hollywood although they do receive funding from the city)? Inquiring minds would like to know, Mr. Mason.

    Oh, and, yes, as I’ve said before, Boystown (as many of us knew it) is dead. More and more senior gays and lesbians will be forced to move elsewhere either due to dramatic increases in their NON-rent stabilized units or via the despicable Ellis Act. Although younger, more affluent gays and lesbians may take their place, what are the consequences of them spending 50% or MORE of their income on rent? Well, all of this will not matter when the eventual global financial meltdown happens which is not a question of IF but WHEN. Good luck younger generation because I think you will, unfortunately, experience a “world of hurt.”

  21. This rings true. The only reason my partner and I can afford to live here is because I bought my house years ago. Today, the “starter” condo is around $500k and a small house starts at nearly $1 million. You have to have a very healthy income to afford either.

    As has been discussed in national and local publications, rents in LA are extremely high, particularly in desirable, safer areas. West Hollywood alone can’t build itself out of the housing crisis, we are only a small blip in the Greater Los Angeles area. Micro units seem to be one answer to the problem. If our zoning codes need to be amended to allow such units, then that should be done. I just don’t know if developers are inclined to build them when they can build less dense “luxury” (everything build today is billed as “luxury”) apartments and condos and make more money. The AirBnB issue doesn’t help things either.

  22. This is the way housing works-has always worked. I don’t see the problem here. Weho will always draw gays in-its very unique with the strip of fifteen bars all in a row. There are tons of cheaper places in Hollywood, in the valley, etc

  23. We need to mount a MAJOR campaign to have the State Legislature rescind/revise the law they past prohibiting communities/towns/cities from restricting rental increases. The landlord lobby killed “rent control” long ago..and it’s time to express our need to maintain our community while being fair to business owners i.e. landlords too. The extreme move by the State Legislatures wasn’t needed then..but now we live with it and should revise it to manage the unlimited rent increases that are killing the definition of our home, our village, our city.

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