Let’s Talk About Housing in West Hollywood

Fountain Avenue apartment building
Fountain Avenue apartment building

YThe City of West Hollywood has a unique history of commitment to protecting and creating housing for all people. Incorporated in 1984, the city was founded by a movement to stabilize rents and protect housing options that were affordable for disenfranchised populations, especially seniors and the disabled, Russian-speaking immigrants, and the LGBT community. The Rent Stabilization Ordinance was passed shortly after cityhood, and later the city adopted an Inclusionary Housing Policy, requiring 20% of units in new housing projects to be permanently affordable for those who income qualify. In addition to the city’s General Plan and zoning laws, these two policies have helped the city lead in the creation of a range of housing options and have inspired other local governments to follow that lead.

Lindsey Horvath
Lindsey Horvath

But despite our progressive policies, West Hollywood has not escaped the housing crisis facing the entire State of California. According to a recent survey conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) for the city, 73% of residents were concerned about a lack of affordable housing.

Since cityhood, a total of 867 affordable units have been constructed in West Hollywood – 408 inclusionary units in private developments through the city’s inclusionary requirements and 459 units by non-profit organizations. But the demand for affordable housing exceeds the amount that has been created over the past 30-plus years. The lower-income wait list is completely full; although the moderate income wait list is open, the salary requirement precludes many middle-income residents from qualifying. (The salary requirement for a household of one person is greater than $47,386 and equal to or less than $59,232.) With median one-bedroom rents approaching $2,000 per month, the threshold for “real-world affordable” seems to leave out a significant portion of West Hollywood residents.

Meanwhile, legislators in Sacramento have also taken up the mantle of tackling the housing crisis, passing laws aimed at incentivizing the creation of housing for all economic levels. SB 1818, which took effect in 2005, creates a range of density bonuses and requires local governments to offer incentives (i.e. parking reductions, setbacks, additional height) to developers who meet the benchmarks outlined in the policy. More recently implemented, AB 2222 requires developers to replace affordable units already in existence on a property in order to qualify for certain density bonuses and incentives. And just this past May, Gov. Jerry Brown introduced a bill that would exempt developments from some environmental and/or local measures if they meet certain requirements and set aside a portion of their units for low-income residents.

While these laws have been intended to expand the housing stock for all income levels, at times they have also created unintended consequences for cities like West Hollywood that have already adopted our own policies. Conversations about the rate and type of development we see in the city are commonplace, with some questioning whether our policies make sense for a small city that is already quite dense.

For these and many other reasons, the City Council unanimously directed City Hall staff to engage in a citywide study and discussion of our multi-family residential zones (often dubbed “the R2-R4 study”). This process of educating and engaging the community in discussion about our R2-R4 zones, as well as about housing policies overall, will begin after the Labor Day holiday. For more information about this process, you can contact the city’s Community Development Department.

907 Larrabee
907 Larrabee

However, for those who enjoy a good summer study session, I am hosting an additional opportunity to engage in discussion about the policies that affect the creation of residential development in our city. Too often, important ideas and concerns expressed from our public are squeezed into two-minute bites at council meeting comment periods or public hearings for specific projects. These restrictions have not allowed our community to fully engage in a more open discussion about our housing policies, and especially how we want them to shape our future.

So I have called upon three West Hollywood residents and community leaders who have a wealth of knowledge and experience working with housing policies in the city. A former mayor and council member as well as former planning commissioner, Abbe Land has been a key player in developing the City’s policies on housing, especially for the creation of affordable housing. Rent Stabilization Commissioner Josh Kurpies has served the city for many years, helping to oversee the enforcement of the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, and also works on the development of state housing policy in his employment with our Assemblymember Richard Bloom. The American Institute of Architects Fellow Ric Abramson has a range of experience applying state and local policies to residential developments in West Hollywood, and has also previously served on the Board for the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation. The panel discussion will be expertly moderated by Wehoville editor and West Hollywood resident Henry Scott.

The panel discussion will take place this Saturday, August 13, from 9:30 to 11 am in the City Council Chambers, located at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. south of Santa Monica and is free of charge and open to the public. This town hall-style event is intended to be an opportunity for residents and stakeholders to engage with one another, and to learn how existing policies shape the creation of residential development in our city. It is not an “official” City of West Hollywood event and is not intended to be a substitute for the information that the city is providing to our community for the R2-R4 study, nor will it cover all issues that relate to housing policy. (For example, while housing policy plays a role in addressing it, homelessness and its impacts will not be a major focus of our discussion.) Simply put, I enjoy learning from my community, and I hope you will, too. Please consider joining us and lending your ideas to the discussion.

  1. First time at this site. I’m a single family home owner in Weho and I’m concerned about the amount of apartment complexes going up all over town. I know there has been a large amount of talk about affordable housing, and even low income housing, but how does that increase the value of our properties. I cannot afford to live in Bel Aire, Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades….so I just don’t. I think apartment housing should be affordable, but it seems like everytime I turn around there is another massive apartment complex going up.

  2. Spot on Woody! You are an important voice. Don’t be bullied. Elections are never over & change can be painfully slow. I’m with you all the way dude

  3. Woody, that’s right…..you keep bringing up the same thing over and over again……Doing so It’s not going to change last year’s landslide election results.

    Turn the page.

  4. 32+ years later, and this? Like homelessness & traffic congestion & over development & political corruption, it’s the same old lip service that people such as myself have been hearing since way before we became a city. This was supposedly one of the main reasons we worked so hard in those days to become a city in the first place. And these are the changes we have yet so see, if ever. What’s important for real progress is changing the make up of the old City Council & making sure those who are removed from office don’t have a chance to run for someone else’s vacated seat a few months later. Remember that doing the same thing over & over again & expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.

  5. I am approaching my 1 year of living in West Hollywood. I have just recently moved into a studio apartment for $1500. I left a 2 bed roommate situation with street parking where it was not enjoyable because WeHo/LA is not livable with out using your car often. My studio has a parking spot but is pricey even for a decent salary.I will pay it to live in WeHo and work in Burbank for the quality of life in weho. I worry that the high rent price will keep me restricted to eating and drink and eat in more.

  6. @Randy: I hear you about “micro units” The problem I have with creating these tiny units is the market will just adjust and these micro units will become the cost of a current $1800 one bedroom apt. Unless these units are monitored by capping the amount they can charge (which some will say is a form of rent-control)…then not only will owners not build them…developers won’t bother either.

    The issue isn’t just in Weho..its all over SoCali. You’re having a merger of all rental units basically becoming the same price. You don’t have a price hierarchy any longer (studio, one-bedroom, 2-bedroom, etc). They basically are all the same price. And with that higher price you have more people living in a one bedroom apartment (you can have 3 people live legally in a 1-bed)…and then this just bleeds over to congestion, parking issues, crime, etc.

    It’s really just a mess in CA now.

  7. How about incentives FROM West Hollywood? Having Sacramento in the mix opens up the list to unlimited applicants which rather defeats WeHo’s stated purpose. Let’s take care of our own folks that keep slipping through the cracks and make the adjustments rather than conceptualizing something that will never be a reality. Aren’t their folks out there with an authentic social conscience?

  8. SaveWeHo, I agree with your contention that they should “ban AirBNB entirely except for renting out rooms in private homes.” But I understand it IS a city law, and the city just discussed at a recent council meeting how to deal with it, and better enforce it. I honestly don’t think AirBnB is affecting the situation that much. But apartments definitely need to not be turned into hotels.

    I think the city needs to create some incentives for developers to create “micro units.” Mandated “affordable units” are barely putting a dent into the situation. Market forces will drive pricing. When developers seem only to be interested in creating “luxury units,” this has little positive effect, as many people can’t afford them.

    “Micro units,” on the other hand, give people at lower income levels an option. I moved to WeHo in 1999. My one bedroom, 700 square foot (approximately) apartment, with pool, on Flores (near Fountain) was less than $900. That was a lot for me back then, but looking at people in that age group now, their income level isn’t that much higher (proportional to the increase of cost of living), where a one-bedroom can easily run them near $2K a month. So I know of a few younger people who have made choices such as renting a living room. In other words, a lot of younger, lower-income people are already giving up personal space to make ends meet. So why not give them their own private space, as an option, with these “micro units?”

    The sad answer to that question seems to be that developers are going to try and make as much money as they can, no matter what. They don’t seem invested in what happens to the neighborhood demographics.

    So what incentives can be made to get them to build these types of places? Or just a “regular” apartment complex? No frills, not “luxury” units?

    In the meantime, one of the big problems is that owners of existing apartment structures often let them sit there and degrade, waiting for their big pay out to sell, when they feel the time is right.

  9. Not mentioned in the article is the impact of short term rentals, think airbnb. At any given time the amount of short term rentals FAR outweighs legitimate rental listings in Weho. There is a group of developers and business machines that are buying up multiple houses and just turning them into airbnbs, and the city is well aware of this issue as stated in the minutes of a city council meeting last month. This issue needs to be included in this community discussion. And Lindsey Horvath has stated, in that same meeting, that after her discussions in D.C. the airbnb company has incredible clout and power, and politicians are bending over for them. You want to continue to make a name for yourself Ms. Horvath then take on this issue. And if not you, then who has the guts to take this issue on for our community.? There is a waiting list for low income and middle income housing, there could also be a list system for a certain amount of short term rentals – where owners/renters must also live on the premises or be officially listed with the city as a way of checks and balances. It has been a nightmarish experience living next to a house that was divided in two so two sets of people can be renting at the same time. These vacationers have no respect for a quiet street and it’s a 24 hour party every week, I would NEVER have chosen to move next to a hotel and should not be made to live next to an illegal one now.

  10. We need to organize and advocate at the state level to weaken the Ellis Act before it has the degree of impact it has on Cities like San Francisco…

    WHAM and activists must continue to work with METRO to West Hollywood and join with our key traffic hubs to meet the increase density of affordable housing that is being built and to come. The meeting of METRO and affordable housing at our key traffic hubs is key too our not to distant future but at least a legacy that we can now work on for the future of West Hollywood.

    We must engage in a rational debate regarding up zoning. Changes to the zoning will allow for more development with inclusionary housing and allow for affordable housing projects by WHCHC to add affordable units through zoning that allow vertical growth.

    West Hollywood must always be known as an ‘affordable’ city. Nostalgia and sentimentality from the Sherman era, unincorporated L.A. era and the early years of cityhood should always be reflected in our true historic venues, properties. Now in our 32nd year since incorporation and the 21st century, we cannot afford to lose our neighborhoods even with a tick up on zoning.

  11. The minute you place the creation of affordable housing in the hands of developers you’ve already lost the battle. They have no interest in creating these units and many of them would rather pay the fee to avoid their creation. These so called incentives from Sacramento does absolutely NOTHING for the creation of inclusionary affordably housing and 1-3 units here and there is nothing but a payoff for them.

    If you truly want to change the dynamic…there needs to be more mass housing at affordable levels. The entire building needs to be “affordable”. And even then, the housing lists have been closed since 2013 and they already have hundreds on the waitlist. It’s futile.

    What could help? Ban AirBNB entirely except for renting out rooms in private homes. No AirBNB in apartments or condos, etc. Make it a city law, but moreso…HIRE SOMEONE to enforce it. Otherwise its useless. Put a stop to condo development which offers nothing to the housing at affordable rates. Build city funded housing projects. We dont need another hotel in town. We need mass apartment buildings.

  12. One income level always seems to be left out – the low low income – the Section 8 tenant Voucher tenant. I have been stuck in the same apartment for a long long time because no landlords accept Section 8 anymore because the payment standards are so low and I don’t want to live in Palmdale/Lancaster.

  13. Thanks for stepping out and offering to explore this most important subject. This is a role for a progressive journalist and the results will reach many more people than would a City Council meeting TV play. I hope that more than one such event is necessary and that the Council will be poeeping over the transom to see what’s going on.

  14. This should be interesting……and FINALLY, a moderator that actually knows the issues, history and dynamics of this city.

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