WeHo Residents Want More Affordable Housing (Just Don’t Build It Please)

apartment building, trammel crowe
A rendering of the Domain, an apartment building that is opening soon on Santa Monica Boulevard at North Formosa Avenue.

An overwhelming majority of West Hollywood residents believe the city needs more affordable housing but, in an apparent contradiction, many of them don’t want more apartment and condo buildings built in WeHo, which is the only effective way to create more affordable housing units in a built-out city.

That contradiction is revealed in a survey conducted in November by Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) at the request of the West Hollywood City Council. The survey, with 1,322 respondents online and by telephone, will be formally presented to the Council at its meeting tonight.

The survey reveals a divide among the city’s older and younger residents, among homeowners and renters and among those on the city’s more affluent West Side and those on the East Side. Those residents who are older, own their own homes and live on the more affluent West Side are more likely to say the city should not allow construction of more multi-unit housing. But when it comes to more apartments and condos in their own neighborhoods, half of respondents say no, build them elsewhere.

Overall, the FM3 survey found that nearly three out of four respondents don’t believe there is enough housing that they can afford in West Hollywood and that the city lacks enough affordable housing overall. Respondents also said there isn’t enough affordable housing for low-income people (61%), for young adults (51%) and for seniors (41%).

But while 73% of respondents said there isn’t enough affordable housing in WeHo, 67% said building more apartment or condo buildings will lead to rents going up, forcing out current residents. A little more than half of the respondents said they don’t believe building more multi-unit housing creates more affordable housing, while 35% believe it does.

The city’s decision to commission the study was made in 2015 in response to complaints from some residents about multi-unit housing projects that were approved because they met the city’s zoning code and development standards. Its results illustrate what a report from the Department of Rent Stabilization and Housing describes as a “conundrum”.

That conundrum is not unique to West Hollywood, but it is a particular issue in WeHo and in other California coastal cities according to “California’s High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences”, a March 2015 report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

OPINION: Foes of Development Need to Remember What WeHo Was Founded On

“A collection of factors come together on the California coast to create a particularly heightened level of community resistance to new housing,” the report says. “High demand to live on California’s coast results in constant pressure for additional housing. At the same time, residents of California’s coast have much at stake in decisions about housing growth, as their communities have very high home values and desirable natural amenities. As a result, residents often push back against proposals for new housing. In addition, there is very little vacant land for new housing, meaning that development often takes the form of redevelopment in established neighborhoods. Redevelopment changes these neighborhoods, creating additional concerns for existing residents.”

Those concerns are evident in the FM3 survey results. “… Concern about issues related to overcrowding, including traffic and congestion, increased population and parking concerns are among the most cited reasons for opposing new multi-unit housing,” says a report on the FM3 survey. “Approximately one in four respondents also volunteered concern about it being unattractive or harming the charm and character of the city … “

According to the survey:

— Eight in ten respondents believe that new multi-unit housing adds to traffic and congestion problems (14% disagree and 3% are uncertain).

— While half of respondents agree that new multi-unit buildings provide more off-street parking within the building, 33% disagree and 16% are unsure.

— Six in ten respondents believe new multi-unit housing adds to many people to West Hollywood, something 33% disagree with and 6% are unsure of.

Survey Shows Conflicts in Perceptions of WeHo Residents

The survey reveals close conflicts in the perceptions of WeHo residents. For example, 38% of respondents think there are not enough existing apartments in West Hollywood, and 20% believe there are not enough new apartments being built. But while that total of 58% of respondents would appear to want more new apartments, 40% of those surveyed think too many new apartments are being built or proposed to be built.

Residents were asked whether they would prefer a building with fewer parking spaces and lower-rent apartments or a building with higher rents and more parking. Forty-four percent chose higher rents and more parking while 40% chose lower rents and fewer parking spaces.

Respondents were closely divided on two other development issues: Whether they would support a building with more affordable units that was closer to the sidewalk (46% said yes) or one with few affordable units set back farther from the sidewalk (40%). And whether they would support a five-story tall building with more affordable units (46%) or a four-story building with fewer affordable units (40%).

“… Support for multi-unit housing is undermined by concerns of how it fits in the existing neighborhood, including height, setback, and design; concerns about parking, traffic congestion and overcrowding, and doubts about whether it will provide more affordability or just push out current residents to be replaced by more affluent residents.”

The Old and the Young Perceive West Hollywood Differently

Perhaps the most striking differences in the survey are the responses from those who are young and those who are old:

— Of those ages 40 to 64, 40% believe the city’s look and feel is worse than it used to be. Thirty-five percent of those older than 64 agree. By contrast, only 10% of those 18 to 29 years old the the atmosphere of the city has gotten worse, as do only 23% of those ages 30 to 39.

— Of those under 30 years of age, 43% support building more apartments and condos, while only 31% of those age 75 or older do. Length of time in WeHo also is a factor, with 54% of those who have lived here two years or less supporting more apartments and condos. By contrast, only 27% of those who have lived here 21 years or more support that.

The survey found major differences in opinions of those on the city’s West Side and those on the East Side and Center City. On the East Side, where 84% of residents are renters, 67% think there isn’t enough affordable housing for lower income residents. That compares with 57% in the rest of the city. On the West Side, where 58% of residents own their homes, only 66% of respondents think there isn’t enough affordable housing, while 78% think that in the rest of the city.

Proposed Next Steps

In its response to the survey, the city’s Rent Stabilization and Housing Department will ask the City Council tonight to take several steps:

1) Develop design guidelines that would be citywide and potentially neighborhood specific to address concerns that new buildings don’t fit with the existing character of the neighborhood.

2) Eliminate a current city requirement that all projects in the multi-unit housing districts (R3 and R40) fill at least 90% of the density permitted on the specific lot. The department argues that that would give developers more flexibility to design projects that fit the neighborhood.

3) Allow townhouse projects. Currently the city only allows multi-unit condominiums, where each unit is owned by the occupant and the overall site and public spaces are the property of the condo association to which the unit owners pay a fee. Under the townhouse model, the owner of the unit also would own the land below and around it.

4) Consider offering developers incentives to build shorter projects, including reviewing and approving them without requiring they be vetted by the Planning Commission, which can be a lengthy process.

5) Limit the height of buildings in the R3 and R4 districts to three stories. The city’s current housing regulations require that any condo building with more than 10 units provide 20% of them as affordable housing. When a developer agrees to meet that requirement, the state’s density bonus law applies, which lets the developer add an additional story or increase the project’s height — a bonus — by 10 feet. The Rent Stabilization and Housing memo says that restricting the height to three stories means the most a developer could do is boost the building to four stories under the state bonus density law. However Ed Levin, a local architect, has noted that there is a “waiver provision” in the state law that says the city can’t preclude a developer from building the entire allowable density – including bonus – on the project site, regardless of any zoning restrictions. A developer who chose to take advantage of the entire allowable density and the bonus could end up building a five-story building.

6) Permit height averaging in evaluating a proposed project. That is a process where, for example, where a flat-roofed building could be 50 feet high, and a building with a sloping room could have a peak of 55 feet and a lowest point of 45 feet. Height averaging allows architects to design buildings whose height is sensitive to human perceptions.

7) Evaluate parking requirements, which currently are based on the number of bedrooms in multi-unit residential building, along with actual residential parking demand.

8) Evaluate current regulations to identify roadblocks to building innovative types of housing types and potentially create incentives for certain types of units that might make more possible independent living for older adults, assisted living, congregate living homes and housing that works students or employees of local businesses.

The department explicitly does not recommend:

1) Eliminating the requirement that all developers of condo projects with 10 or more units make 20% of them affordable units and instead let them pay a fee to the city. Opponents of development in West Hollywood have called for the city to do that, with those on the other side noting that the city is effectively built out and that it would be difficult for City Hall to find new places to build such housing. “Eliminating the on-site requirement would not only conflict with the city’s goal for affordable housing, but also goals for social equity and inclusiveness,” the department’s memo states

2) Eliminating the on-site affordable housing unit requirement and instead requiring that developers pay the city an “impact fee” that it would use to develop affordable housing projects. That requirement is somewhat similar to the in-lieu fee requirement.

The City Council will consider the survey at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., south of Santa Monica. Parking is free in the five-story structure behind the building with a ticket validated at the meeting.

  1. Didn’t Formosa Cafe just close for good. Too bad, the rendering will have to be redone, and the old Formosa was the best thing in the sketch.

  2. “What about us?,” how do you propose the city “force owners of abandoned buildings to build housing there?”

    I’m not an expert on law, or zoning, but it is my understanding that an owner can do what they see fit with property they own, as long as they are abiding by the zoning. Of course, it has to be approved, and exceptions are made to the zoning, but I don’t think there is any legal way to force the owner of an an empty building to do anything with it. Certainly no way to force them to put it on the market, or invest in developing housing.

    Maybe what the city can do is provide incentives. I still think that micro-units are a good idea. It seems like all new developments are built “luxury style,” which results in top rent dollars being squeezed out of the units. Micro-units would add more units, possibly resulting in the same gross rent from the building, but with smaller units, providing people who don’t make more than $100K a year with an option (and for those who don’t want to live with 1 or more other people).

    Eventually this market will simmer down. I believe rents will level off, and possibly go down, at some point. With our new leader at the helm of our country, and cyclically, we are due for a recession.

  3. Let’s put aside the fact that there’s a difference between affordable housing and low income housing. Neither significantly lowers property values in cities like weho that have limited inventory and high home sale prices. So, sorry NIMBY, you’re wrong.

    But instead of putting up more angular, glass monstrosities with a few cheap apartments by law, or tearing down older buildings with lower rents, how about forcing owners of abandoned buildings to build housing there? La Cienega and Holloway, SMB across from the Troubadour come to mind. Those buildings are eyesores, serve no purpose, and don’t bring any tax or consumer revenue to the city. The one on Santa Monica Blvd. attracts squatters and had a murder, for Christ sake.

  4. Oh WeHo…please don’t confuse low income housing with affordable housing. They are NOT the same thing. Affordable is what makes it possible for people like me who don’t make $100k+ or who were fortunate enough to buy in Weho back when housing was affordable and live long enough to see a 1200 sf house escalate to $1.5M+. Of course, only in the past 10 years has such a house gone from around $400k to the stratospheric levels they are now. I’m happy to live in an apartment, but we all have to agree that $3,000 for a 750 sf apartment is high. If we’re lucky enough to have 2 BR then the rent can be shared, which is the way many of us are getting by and still able to live in BH lite.

  5. To all those who own houses in West Hollywood and oppose affordable housing development, consider this:

    You’re unwillingness to allow for new construction of more affordable units in this city will eventually drive you out of your home and many of you could lose everything. Property values in West Hollywood have skyrocketed in the last 10 years and are nearing a breaking point at which only a few will be able to afford to live and work in the city. An apartment which I once rented for $1025 dollars a month 10 years ago is now renting for $2250 per month. That’s a 219% increase in just 10 years. If something isn’t done to alleviate the upward pressure on rental prices, the rental market will collapse under its own weight driving property values through the floor taking your precious home’s property values with it. You could likely end up upside down in your home like many did in the 2008 economic collapse with little to no recourse. Oh, but that can’t happen here you say. To that I say look at what happened to Las Vegas, San Diego and Culver City.

    In Las Vegas, the conditions were certainly different than they are here but the end result is the same. They over built luxury units and condos believing that the values would never go down. Billions were lost when the economic downturn occurred. The same over building happened in San Diego with the same results. The similarity is that whether you build to much or too few units. Eventually the market craters because it either prices itself out of reach or dies off because of greed. Both trends could be seen to be happening here in WeHo. Culver City didn’t build enough and it became a blighted cesspool where residents had a hard time unloading their properties at the bottom of the market. The same could easily happen here. Smart, cost efficient development is the only solution. If people can’t afford to live, work and play within the City, all of you will end up losing far more than you’ve gained by opposing development. The Dylan, Huxley, Avalon and Domain are priced beyond the average persons reality; They’re also mostly empty because of it; an ominous sign.

    New Properties need to be developed and built so that average people can afford to live in WeHo. Good governance and smart planning made West Hollywood a desirable place to live. That dream is in serious danger now unless many more properties are build and the average cost of rent doesn’t decrease. Greed by property owners will become West Hollywood’s doom if action isn’t taken soon.

  6. The glaring disconnect in this survey and article is so easy to see, The people of West Hollywood want smart, aesthetic, familiar and similar buildings in their neighborhoods that do not change the nature and the landscape of their own personal reasons for being residents in our beautiful city and those at City Hall are under intense pressure to change that very character to accommodate what, well, not affordability, 3000 a month for a one bedroom is not affordable, not character, all of the buildings that are being built look nothing like the ones that are already here, not to alleviate current pressure, that’s why most of these buildings are not full. So, what is this pressure at City Hall? Well, it is pressure to accommodate developers and not really accommodate the needs and the desires of the PEOPLE, we can build better and denser and smarter Garden Apartments that look just like the rest of the buildings on the street! We can build smarter, denser, and smaller unit walk ups with underground parking. The problem here is that City Hall is trying to follow a general plan that was basically written at the behest of Developers and their campaign dollars instead of listening to and doing what the current Residents want. Case in point, does anyone remember voting for as many as 20 new Billboards on Sunset Blvd.

    On a side note, those that blame San Fran and Weho for their very high desirability and bohemian character and style on rent control are missing the point, the demand for affordability has been their since Howard Jarvis inserted Prop !3 into everyone’s lives, if landlords had passed on their tax savings to their renters instead of pocketing them gains, then it might be a different story and, as in rent control, Prop 13 discourages homeowners from moving so they will not have to pay higher property taxes, pushing that burden on to newcomers to California! Maybe one day people will see that rent control and Prop 13 produce the same results, people staying put!

  7. We already know the solution to many of the problems that Weho residents have voiced in the article. You want more housing? Then build. You want more affordable housing? Then build some more to satisfy current demand. Demand that is obviously isn’t even close to being met. You want more affordable housing with less traffic congestion? Then build more to satisfy current demand but build it smartly in a way that is dense and discourages car use. In short, build a lot and build them densely.

    We already the answers to these problems. They are very simple. The problem is, can WeHo residents and LA metro as a whole and connect the dots and overcome shortsighted NIMBYism? We shall see.

    1. I disagree Franz. All the new, more dense housing is not affordable at all. So I don’t see how that is the answer

  8. These new buildings are so uninspiring. Again, WEHO’s statement in “architecture” looks like it is populated by rejects from East Berlin before the wall came down. The only folks benefiting from this development are a lot of rich white men like those New York transplants behind the “Townscape Three.” WEHO had some sort of kitsch style but now its just peppered with a lot of concrete overpriced apartment blocks with names like Domain and Avalon. All of the edifices are living testimonies to the cultural background of the people running the “creative city.” “Políticos sin gusto y sofisticación!”

  9. The problem is that most of the new units are outrageously expensive. I’m all for smart development, but when older, affordable units are being destroyed for significantly more expensive newer units, that’s a HUGE problem for everyone.

  10. I think this article is misleading. They say more housing equals more affordable housing. that is simply not the case. And if you tear down an older building with people who are grandfathered in, and build a much larger building with more capacity, the previous renters are out on their ear. I just want to know who can afford these new buildings?

  11. I am not a planning expert but I am a long time resident. I have been here since 1994. I hear people (including a council member or two) knocking affordable housing and seemingly are so against development that they act like they don’t even want potholes repaired. This is fine and good for them, as I believe they are homeowners. Times change. My grandfather used to tell me that there were cobblestone streets when he was little. THIS IS NOT THE SLEEPY BEDROOM TOWN , URBAN VILLAGE , ANY LONGER that people keep trying to pretend it is. . It is a thriving city and we need affordable housing…..ON SITE…..IN WEHO. Those that rent, or are ill, or have come across hard times and may need housing are left to the sharks I guess.
    I hope council will favor the staff report. AFFORDABLE HOUSING MUST BE LEFT IN TACT AND CONTINUE TO BE BUILT. . I have heard the lies my own neighbors have been told by a losing candidate this year. It is beyond reprehensible. The fear of their property values decreasing due to affordable housing is not reality. WEHO PROPERTY VALUES CONSISTENTLY INCREASE, SOMETIMES BY LARGE NUMBERS. FYI- that’s because of the attractive , bustling, place-to-be city that it has become. PEOPLE THAT DO NOT WANT AFFORDABLE HOUSING NEAR THEM AR NIMBY’S….THE END…NIMBY’S. Very Trumpian.

  12. Do weho Residents REALLY WANT MORE?? By definition, weho Residents all HAVE EXISTING HOUSING IN WEHO. A few may be in a personal relationship crisis, or roommate crisis … and looking for affordable new options.

    Given the apathy of most 30,000 weho Residents (if it is hundreds or even a thousand people who follow, care and feel weho needs to build as this article states …that is a statistically nominal number).

    My housing is in weho. I’m pretty much set. I have no personal or financial interest to respond to this had the poller chosen me at random for gathering the data used)

    Actually, in theory, with a gun to my head for a response, As a property owner, I would NOT want low income or affordable buildings. The more McMansions go up, property values in all of weho go up. Even my economical small condo would go up in value, if more wealthy were drawn to weho and wanted to buy or build expensive personal housing.

    But who, being a resident, would be part of any cheap housing concern, from a list of bigger issues and problems, which actually adversly their daily lives, to which most are too apathetic even do anything even with real issues affecting them.

  13. If the Costa-Hawkins Act eliminated rent control on buildings built before 1995 why is the Weho threshold 1979? Updating that could have a very positive impact on tenants who are fearful of being evicted by exorbitant increases in rents.

  14. Don, those very same ideals you said that the city is founded is now killing the city with high rental and real estate prices. They did the same thing in SF and it is increasingly looking like Disneyland for rich adults. Times change and you either died on your own vomit or you move on and adapt like everyone else.

    As for the contradictions, this is where city and state leaders should step in and you know, lead. People can be dumb sometimes and letting them always dictate policy is the best way to get someone like Trump. We already know the solution to this problem (build) but do city and state leaders have the courage to stand up and change people’s perception of it? Just look at raising taxes, no one likes them but we all know we need it. If you leave to the general population all the time, taxes will never be raised.

  15. This article is misleading. As one of the long term residents of our city, I remember well what we wanted when the city was founded and it was to protect residents from greedy landlords, equality for lgbt community members and self governing so the over-development plans of LA City didn’t affect us. As for affordable housing what is “affordable”? We don’t have rent stabilization any longer due to landlord lobbying the State Legislature. When developers want to escape restrictions of affordable housing, parking, set back etc. etc. all they have to do is pay a bribe, er fee to the City. So yes polls may reflect confusing if not contradicting responses….the various self interests in committees, task forces, boards and even the city council seem to conflict with the individual residents of our city in efforts to feed the appetites of developers who want to cram more and more of their mixed use, hotels and other commercial entitities. What reactions do you expect from those of us who maintain homes (residences) here?

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