West Hollywood Looks for Ways to Add Housing for Middle-Income People

Illustration of a fourplex building (Bruinier & Assoc.)

West Hollywood seems to have an abundance of luxury housing units for high-income residents as well as its share of “affordable units” for lower-income residents. However, there has long been a shortage of work-force housing.

West Hollywood’s City Council hopes to do something

about that, unanimously approving at its Tuesday night meeting a study to find ways to entice developers to build more housing for middle-income households.

The type of housing envisioned is that which falls between a single-family house and a three-story or higher apartment building. The proposal is talking about finding ways to build more duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, live-work units, row houses and bungalow courts, as well as guest houses and granny flats, the type of housing that generally hasn’t been built in West Hollywood since about the 1940s.

This housing is often referred to as the “missing middle,” an industry term used to describe certain types of housing products as well as the households in the middle tier of the income distribution, according to the staff report.

This “missing middle” housing would be for people who make 100% to 150% percent of the area’s median income, where 100% is currently defined at $66,000 and 150% is defined at $99,000. Thus, it would be for people who do not need a housing subsidy, but still would be priced out of the market if they tried to purchase a home in West Hollywood.

Councilmember Lauren Meister initiated the idea, explaining in the staff report, “High land prices, investment expectations, few options for alternative forms of housing, and consistently rising construction and labor costs push builders to target the top end of the market, where they can find stronger profit margins. The result is that new market rate housing is priced at the upper end of the economic scale.”

The proposal would see the Rent Stabilization and Housing division working in conjunction with the Planning and Development Services division and the Urban Design & Architecture Studio to figure out ways to get create this housing. Experts in the field would also be called in to help devise solutions.

Among the things they will likely consider are changes to zoning laws and building codes to encourage creation of this “missing middle” housing. As the report notes, some cities have incentivized missing middle housing by allowing duplexes and triplexes to be built in single-family neighborhoods or by relaxing requirements on setbacks and yard sizes.

West Hollywood may want to follow those examples for expanding its middle-income housing, or may want to devise completely new ideas, which is what the study will examine.

Councilmember John Duran supported the item, saying he supports any ideas for creating more housing. However, Duran felt the city already has middle-income housing, better known as condominiums.

“To me, the middle-class housing has always been the rent-controlled apartments and the condos,” said Duran.

  1. Old story: The only way up is up. We’ve run out of land upon which we can spread out with nifty little houses. While we can enjoy what we have the future calls for more density and that means taller structures for more people. Let’s admit that and plan carefully for the near future.

  2. I think this is a very sensible approach. The council really should try to mandate this as the market is not going to deliver the kind of housing units for families/individuals in the 60-100k income bracket which are pretty much stuck renting apartments. More properties like ones pictured – townhouse style which make the most of limited lot space would be excellent as they would ensure minimum HOA fees whilst providing room for families to grow. The issue, as usual is getting stuff actually built in WeHo. The lower end stuff is a bit easier as legislation mandates the affordable housing elements and the luxury stuff can afford the time/effort it takes to get stuff through the planning stages but the middle get squeezed hard.

  3. I’d also like to put forward the idea of factoring shared housing into our overall housing plans. For example housing with multiple roommates. This option would allow us to include those who are still in college, just starting their careers, and others who are more likely to work local jobs. These people are more likely to benefit our local economy by spending money within the city while having a reduced impact on traffic, etc. They would also benefit from the things that make our city so special. Furthermore, this would make projects more economical for developers by increasing the ratio of income per ft^3.

    To do this I have several ideas. Create a housing designation for units rented by the bedroom which would use the cost per bed as the income basis instead of the entire unit. Develop a business permit specific to shared housing. Establish standards similar to those used in affordable housing for new housing construction. Make transitioning existing housing into this system economically viable. Provide resources for land-lords to help implement renting in this fashion.

  4. I truly applaud the idea of adding housing that is within reach of those with middle-class incomes. Although I think our city should widen the range of factors we consider beyond just income. For example: how much of they are likely to contribute back to our city by working & playing in our city, their likelihood to benefit from living here (like access to our social services, our “walkable” town, etc.), and the impact that certain required expenses will have on real-world income such as extra healthcare & ancillary costs for those with physical disabilities & chronic diseases like HIV.

  5. I can’t understand why Lauren always complicated simple issues. Adding a granny flat doesn’t fix our shortage of housing. We need bolder ideas such as more workforce housing units and taller buildings on the main boulevards. We don’t need it on our side streets where we like the charm.

    The main boulevards could handle much more development. We need to make it cheaper to build real workforce housing. Lower parking requirements. Make the units smaller. Think co-living.

    This is the same thing Lauren did when she tried to roll back parking requirements and meter parking which all failed.

    I hope she actually listens to the community outside of Weho West.

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