I think all of us who live in West Hollywood would agree that we are lucky to live in such an amazing city. Clean streets, strong fiscal management, a progressive political and cultural environment among many other positive things. Like any city, however, we have a few areas that could be improved upon, and one issue of concern to many of our residents is the increased cost of housing. Housing affordability is an issue that affects millions of people across our country, and it certainly is a challenge here as well.
Some have tried to blame an increase in development as being the cause of this problem. And I would agree with that to the extent that it certainly doesn’t help when we build more condos and more luxury apartments that only a certain income level of people can afford. But I would argue that development in general isn’t the cause or reason why this housing crisis is happening- in fact I would argue that the right kind of development could be the big solution.
You see, the cost of housing has primarily gone up in recent years in cities where density is restricted. Prices in San Francisco, where this problem has become particularly acute, began rising when developers in the city started running out of space to build on. West Hollywood is facing a similar situation, and while I don’t think building more is the answer on a citywide level, I do think there are certain areas (along Santa Monica Blvd. on the west side of town, for instance, where many small businesses would benefit from more foot traffic) where density bonuses and re-writing of the zoning codes might be appropriate.
The problem is not too much housing- to the contrary, it’s that there’s a deficiency in the right kind of housing stock that will bring costs down. Not condos or luxury apartments- like I said, those do nothing to alleviate the shortage- but micro units and creative types of housing that are smaller, more affordable and will enable a more diverse array of people to move into the city. We should be looking at the ways we can incentivize developers, to make it easier, not harder, for them to build that type of housing.
At a time when the housing shortage in this country has never been more apparent, I think now is the perfect moment for us to come together as a city and outline a vision for where we want to go on this issue. We can take this challenge and turn it into an opportunity- to shape a better future and make West Hollywood a more welcoming, eclectic, creative city in the years and decades to come.
James Duke Mason is a member of the West Hollywood Lesbian & Gay Advisory Board