Election 2020 Citizens Agenda: Affordable Housing

The candidates in the Nov. 2 West Hollywood City Council election (left to right, from the top row): Larry Block, Jerome Cleary, Marco Colantonio, Tom DeMille, John Duran, John Erickson, John Heilman, Christopher McDonald, Noemi Torres, Sepi Shyne, Mark Farhad Yusupov

This is the fourth of eight questions WEHOville presented on Aug. 18 to the candidates in the Nov. 3 election for two seats on the West Hollywood City Council. The questions are based on suggestions from West Hollywood residents — the citizens of WeHo. A new question, and the answers, will be published each of the next six days. Monday’s question andthe answers can be found here. Tuesday’s can be found here. And Wednesday’s can be found here.

Affordable Housing

The City of West Hollywood has seen itself as a champion for affordable housing, enacting a rent stabilization ordinance in 1985, shortly after the city was founded, and requiring that developers of buildings with 10 units or more make at least 20% of them available to moderate- or low- and very low-income people, or direct money to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

The city can only make use of the money in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund if there are non-profit organizations such as the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation that are able to find land in WeHo where the city will allow them to build such housing. And there currently are about 5,000 people on the city’s affordable housing wait list (with at least half of them West Hollywood residents) with only six affordable units available as of a few weeks ago.

Can, and should, West Hollywood do more to increase its affordable housing stock? What would you suggest it do?

Larry Block

Our current affordable housing program is not working. There are about 10 units and a list of 5,000 people. It’s broken. We must:

  • Maintain our 20% inclusionary housing requirements
  • Discourage payment of in-lieu fees
  • Introduce affordable housing co-operatives.
  • Eliminate fraud

Currently all new developments (of 10 or more units) have a 20% mandated inclusionary housing requirement. This level should be maintained as is. In-lieu fees are paid so that developers can pay a fee and not provide the affordable units in that development. The funds received in lieu are placed in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and often do not get used for new development for years. I believe that we should do our best to discourage the payment of in lieu fees.

Home ownership is the key to wealth creation. I want to re-invent affordable housing by changing the way we approach our affordable housing stock. Using non-profit organizations and loan guarantees we can support home ownership for low- and middle-income residents. Think Habitat for Humanity marries Mitchell-Lama. Affordable housing co-ops allow tenants to have an equity stake in their units. These type of affordable housing units allow a tenant to grow equity and not be a prisoner to their rental units for the rest of their lives. Eventually an aging tenant can move on with some equity and the unit will open for a new tenant in need of affordable housing.

Now lets reverse this question to the real problem. The problem is not affordable housing for all who do not qualify in a lottery that is open to everyone in Los Angeles County. The real problem is Housing that is affordable. To this question I propose new quad-type housing and micro units. Think college dorms-type housing and shared common areas. These units can offer young people a new start and provide the business community with local workers.

And finally there are many who live in affordable housing units with luxury cars or second homes. There are others in cash businesses who hide assets to qualify for their affordable housing units. We need to make sure that only the most deserving are able to occupy the few affordable housing units we have available.

Jerome Cleary

The city should use these funds to purchase apartment buildings, small hotels, and condominium units around the city and make an effort to find housing for former and displaced WeHo residents who are on the waiting list, prioritizing their needs before allowing non-WeHoans to even register for the list.

This will be a faster and more economical solution for its needy citizens than new construction from the ground up, unless the entire building is dedicated to affordable housing. Developers should be mandated to include affordable housing in new developments without giving them any incentives, which allow them to reduce parking requirements and increase heights, much to the dismay of surrounding neighbors.

Marco Colantanio

The city needs to build and manage our own affordable housing, once and for all. Using the Affordable Housing TrustFund to fund non-profit organizations like the beleaguered West Hollywood Housing Corporation does not prioritize affordable housing for West Hollywood residents. The name of this organization is misleading by design and intention.

When they are open, the current lists are available to anyone in the United States and perhaps worldwide. And the selection is a lottery unless you have political connections. A few years ago, I met someone who received a letter while living in San Francisco, stating they were selected to move into the Palm View Apartments on Palm Avenue in West Hollywood. That person did not even recall applying but jumped at the opportunity to move to a luxury style, low-income housing unit with a terrace in West Hollywood.

Since West Hollywood can build and manage a $70 million library, a $200 million park, allow city-owned properties like the Coast Playhouse and Aaron Brothers building to remain vacant, surely we can build and manage our own affordable housing and prioritize this for existing low-income residents, disabled persons and allow our senior citizens to age safely in their very own city.

For existing residents we should also consider amending the rent stabilization ordinance to include no rental increases (general adjustment) for lower-income residents. Lower-income is defined as having an income 80% or less of the area median income, which ranges from $66,198 for a household of one person to $76,790 for a three-person household. According to the city’s 2019 Affordable Housing Report, a quarter of the city’s residents (5,707) live on very low incomes and 16% (3,613) are designated as having low incomes, while a total of 40% of West Hollywood residents live on low to very low incomes. Marco4weho.com

John Duran

I believe that West Hollywood has been a champion at creating affordable housing in the city. Most renters in the city fall under our rent stabilization ordinance. Once you move into a West Hollywood unit, you are set with small nominal increases in rent each year – or no increase at all! This controlling of rents has been a life saver for thousands of renters in the city to enable us to stay in our rent-controlled units – including me!

The city is completely built out without any vacant land. So the only way to build new housing – is to go up. I support creating additional housing units on the commercial corridors with mixed-use housing – commercial use on the ground floors and residential use on the floors above. This works in every major urban area in the world. The city has always met its RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) number, but here is the reality – there will always be a waiting list to get into a WeHo affordable unit. We do not have the capacity to meet the demand for every person who wants an affordable unit in West Hollywood. Demand will always exceed the supply of units.

Our housing development has to be sustainable and cautious. We do not want to create unintended consequences of increasing the supply of housing to such a degree that we overburden our community.

Tom DeMille

No response

John Erickson

YES, if we are to remain a diverse community we can and must increase our supply of affordable housing, which has diminished because of state laws. Our housing crisis is facing two forces — immediate displacement due to economic realities fast approaching, which have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the lack of housing. To keep people in their homes, we must extend the eviction moratoriums and work with the county to fund programs such as rental vouchers — this will keep renters in their homes and withstand adding more members to our growing unhoused population. I think we should explore a rent/debt forgiveness program if the federal government does not. A motion has been introduced on the L.A. City Council to use Federal Reserve funds to incur the debt of renters and we should explore a similar program. We must provide shelters, bridge housing, and safe parking spaces as we work to approve and build more housing.

On a deeper and more systemic level, we must look at our housing policies, zoning, and the
history that brought them to the table. That history is riddled with racist, oppressive mechanisms that are continuing to drive our inequality today. We will zone our communities in a way that makes sense for transportation and connection, and appropriately provide enough roofs for our population. This is one of the primary ways in which I review all developments that come before me as a Planning Commissioner and one we all will have to address given the city’s increased RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assocation) numbers that we must hit.

Additionally, the city needs to continue the fight, along with other cities throughout California, to return the CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) funds to the communities where they’ll be put to good use – especially for the creation of affordable housing. This is a priority issue I’ll be working on with the California Contract Cities Association and the California League of Cities as we not only work towards ending our affordable housing crisis but also working towards regional solutions to our local problems.

The city restored the ability for developers to contribute in-lieu fees as part of the affordable housing bonus agreement. That option creates a pool of funding for affordable housing, which enhances the ability to deliver the necessary services to residents in one building. That’s one way to fund housing, especially for our most vulnerable populations. I have led conversations to change the code to incentivize the creation of live/work space and workforce housing. In addition to these policies, I am a big proponent of mixed-use development and encouraging the development of apartments versus condos. In West Hollywood, we have a very special stock of housing that’s affordable in our rent-stabilized units. We must protect and enhance the habitability of these buildings and bring them into the 21st Century with energy-efficiency retrofitting. We can accomplish this through public-private partnership efforts, which I’ve already begun exploring through my work as a Planning Commissioner. When I was at LAX, I saw the power of public-private partnerships and as a Council member will be able to turn to relationships I developed there to leverage new partnerships for West Hollywood.

John Heilman

Affordable housing was one of the reasons for the incorporation of the City of West Hollywood and it has always been one of the key issues in the city. As one of the people who drafted West Hollywood’s rent control law, I know how critical maintaining our rent control law is for many residents. But I also know that rent control is just one way to promote affordable housing. That’s why I initiated our city’s inclusionary housing ordinance. This ordinance requires that 20% of units in new developments be set aside permanently for low- and moderate-income residents. I also started the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation to build permanently affordable units, primarily for seniors, people living with AIDS or disabilities and other residents with special needs. And I’ve been a strong advocate for residents who are participating in the Section 8 program.

We obviously need additional affordable units, but we should be proud that approximately 10% of our existing rental units are permanently affordable because they are owned by a nonprofit housing corporation or the L.A. County Housing Authority or because they are under a deed restriction under our inclusionary program.

One of the main things we should do to increase the supply of permanently affordable units is to look at changing our zoning ordinance so that we focus on building size and height for affordable housing, rather than focusing on the number of units. Affordable dwelling units are typically much smaller than market-rate units. By focusing on building size, we will be able to get more affordable units without adversely impacting the community.

Christopher McDonald

One of the most amazing things about West Hollywood is that its prime reason for being incorporated was to create renters’ rights. West Hollywood became what it became because of the desire over 35 years ago for rent stabilization and affordable housing.

Thanks to the gay community, the Russian Jewish community, and the senior community who all lived here and banded together to incorporate our city and ensure that the people who made West Hollywood what it was weren’t pushed out due to rising rents. That’s the foundation of our city. That’s who we are, and we shouldn’t ever forget that.

And here we are over three decades later still fighting for those same rights. Over and over people talk about how expensive it is to live in West Hollywood. If elected I would consider it my job and honor to continue the fight that was started all those years ago. We need to keep this city filled with the diverse and amazing people who made it what it is. We are a city of 80% renters, and I will fight for you. I will continue the fight for rent control and renters’ rights. I will work to increase the percentage of affordable housing in new developments. I will make it a priority to advance renters’ protections from unfair rent increases and evictions. And I want to make sure our seniors and the most vulnerable members of our community are protected and that they are provided the support they need to uphold their rights as renters.

Sepi Shyne

Yes. Given the housing crisis we are in, I believe we can and should expedite the construction of more affordable housing. At the same time, we also need to focus on protecting our rent-stabilized housing, including implementing one-to-one replacement when buildings are torn down to ensure we do not lose our rent-stabilized housing stock.

And, to ensure we do not overwhelm our housing crisis, we need to ensure we keep residents in their current homes. We must do this by immediately freezing rent payments AND work with the federal government and the banks to freeze mortgage payments. Until that happens, in West Hollywood we need to continue the eviction moratoriums as long as we can and increase the monthly amount of rental grants which are currently at $1,000 for three months and which don’t cover the average amount of rent for each applicant. We need to fast track legal eviction defense counseling for residents and provide mediation services between residential tenants and landlords.

Noemi Torres

The main issue for the unhoused and affordable housing is that we don’t have enough stock. That said, we definitely MUST be diligent to get more units available for the individuals that have been waiting to finally get housed, and the unhoused to have the opportunity to have a roof over their head. I think the best way to do this is by increasing the amount of units per project the developments are asked to provide.

Mark Farhad Yusupov

I agree that the city can do more to increase its affordable housing stock. Demanding more funding from the federal government via various programs and working with our state and private sector partners to bring more opportunities to provide affordable housing is the first step.

As I mentioned previously, our city is already one of the densest cities in the country, and it is possible to have a comprehensive plan on how to develop additional housing without changing the character of the city negatively. That plan must include affordable housing options. As part of my push for more affordable housing, I would propose inviting non-profit organizations that receive government funding with the purpose of building affordable homes that are sold at very low sales prices to low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers. There are other cities that have successfully done that.

Additionally, I am advocating for mixed-use buildings with businesses on the ground level and residential above, which can also make room for more affordable housing options. And while we have strong rent control rules established, we must address the fact that there are many cases when those rules are not followed or enforced. Many of these affordable living spaces that are rent-controlled units are not well maintained. The amenities are in dire conditions, and tenants do not see any action from the owners to make improvements required to provide a safe living environment.

Additionally, we should implement stricter enforcement against short-term rentals as they only contribute to increasing rent prices. And we must also re-establish and expand the tenants’ advocacy center where renters have access to assistance that will address their complaints, resolve disputes, and obtain guidance to Section 8 programs.

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RobbyDobby
RobbyDobby
8 days ago

“And finally there are many who live in affordable housing units with luxury cars or second homes. There are others in cash businesses who hide assets to qualify for their affordable housing units. We need to make sure that only the most deserving are able to occupy the few affordable housing units we have available.” Per Larry Block. Mr. Block, can you please provide specific, factual evidence of these accusations. I agree that WHCHC has become a pay to play scheme with secret lotteries and unqualified residents some how holding onto units which they are not supposed to be qualified… Read more »

Ham Shipey
Ham Shipey
11 days ago

Housing costs…..whatever someone is willing to pay for it. These affordable housing ideas never work and create new problems.

Martha Orellana
Martha Orellana
11 days ago

It’s time…It’s time for change. I’m tired of seeing the same politicians, doing the same things, favoring their developers over the citizens of West Hollywood. Mark Yusupuf has the most common sense approach to fixing our city’s problems. We don’t need more of the same. We need someone who is not indebted to the developers. I am voting for Mark to change the direction of our beloved WEHO.

Rueben
Rueben
15 days ago

Larry Bloc’s proposal for Affordable Housing Cooperatives is the only new idea up here. It shows his understanding at a much deeper level. I’m actually blown away after googling his proposal. You EARNED my vote.

Rent Control is the Problem
Rent Control is the Problem
15 days ago

Please do not confuse rent control, or rent increases, with affordable housing. Rent control is NOT needs based and there are many tenants that make well over six figures still living in $700 apartments and driving expensive cars – look at John Duran, a City Council member, flouting this fact. Rent control exacerbates the housing stock crisis by incentivizing tenants to stay in their current unit because the rent is low when the normal progression is to move from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom, move closer to work or family, or purchase a home – freeing up much needed housing… Read more »

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
14 days ago

With vacancy de-control landlords can raise the rents on vacant units to market rate. The issue in West Hollywood is landlord harassment of long term tenants, most who need the protection of rent control. We need to adopt far more aggressive measures to protect harassed tenants, who are often seniors or disabled, in order to insure diversity within our community.

Todd
Todd
15 days ago

This question is asked every time there are elections. I see lots of good idea, but nothing seems to change. Developers happily pay the in-lieu fees – it’s just a cost of doing business. But the fee per unit should be enough for the City to go and buy a 1 bedroom condo somewhere in the City. I don’t know if anything will ever change because you have to have consensus of at least 3 council members to effect change.

Randy
Randy
15 days ago

I think Marco’s and Heilman’s answers make the most sense. I also love Duran’s idea of us building upwards, because we have little space left. However, the city owns space, and is moving at a snail’s pace on some lots. Crescent Heights and SMB has been owned by the City for YEARS now, and they haven’t even implemented the stage where it is being converted into a temporary parking lot, nor do they have a plan for how to use that space long-term, last I checked. That is an ideal spot for building affordable housing. It is also an ideal… Read more »

JF1
JF1
15 days ago
Reply to  Randy

Yup, the SMB and Crescent Heights locale would be a GREAT space for a high rise affordable housing building (and the city already owns it!). Much better than trying to build two 7 story towers with ZERO parking in the Norma Triangle which is made up of mostly one story homes. It would totally be out of scale for the neighborhood and create a parking nightmare. The neighborhood is going to fight this with everything we’ve got.

Vigilant
Vigilant
15 days ago

John Duran’s claim about maintaining a rent controlled apartment is shameful as are his opinions and behavior or nearly any subject. Far from trustworthy this individual is not worthy of continuing as a city council member under any circumstances.

JF1
JF1
15 days ago

Mark Farhad Yusupov For CITY COUNCIL!

Bax
Bax
15 days ago

Anyone else find it problematic that a high profile criminal defense attorney is gloating about taking advantage of rent control? Perhaps means testing could be part of the equation. To make housing more affordable, appropriate rent increases could be levied on the rich lawyers to offset the rent of the Twink baristas.

Michael Grace
Michael Grace
15 days ago
Reply to  Bax

The “rich lawyer” aka criminal defense attorney aka John Duran member of the city council has a 25 year history of over $350,000 in tax liens. Currently he has 3 liens, 2 Federal and 1 State. West Hollywood of course doesn’t do background checks!

Randy
Randy
15 days ago
Reply to  Bax

Rent control applies to anyone, regardless of income. You might move into a unit while starting a career, and, eventually you make advancements and increases in income (not to mention paying off student debt) which makes the percentage of your housing cost a much lower percentage of your budget. I do not know Duran’s situation, how long he’s been there, what he was making (or even makes), what his expenses are. I’m sure he makes a healthy living and is housing costs related to his income are very low, assuming he’s been living there for awhile. But if you don’t… Read more »

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