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Memo to Mr Krekorian: on Samoa Affordable Housing, Just Say No

MAILANDER MUSINGS - The Councilmember from the northeast Valley should just say no to an affordable housing project on Samoa Avenue. He is, conversely, changing the community narrative on the project, trying to get the community to accept the fact the development is coming to the community whether it likes it or not.
Councilmember Paul Krekorian's letter to about a hundred concerned community members in Sunland Tujunga of two days ago could have been sent by nearly any Councilmember who has an affordable housing project coming to their community. Such projects are very popular with connected developers. The City has more than one such project in the pipeline.

All of these projects are of very questionable merit, because they push our housing stock a little further in the wrong direction.

Krekorian's letter tried to convince the community that the question at the heart of the dispute was simply a matter of scale, rather than whether or not the project itself should be stopped. In my estimation, the letter was a naked attempt to change the narrative on the project in the community, as was his staffer Karo Torossian's appearance before a local land use committee before the letter was issued.

On another affordable housing boondoggle, a funding instrument that would have paved the way for dozens more such projects, I wrote in the LA Times in 2006 that:  Affordable housing — which proponents hope has the same goodwill cachet as "school" or "library" — in truth is a hard-to-define, highly complex and highly speculative realm of urban planning, with a spotty track record and dozens of inherent paradoxes.

For instance, one of the many talking points bond proponents tout is that the resulting housing developments would raise the property values in the communities into which they're inserted. Thus, if an affordable housing project comes to your neighborhood, property values would rise — making housing less affordable!

The neighborhood that Krekorian's office wants to plunk so many units into is already rife with crime activity; and 60+ low income units will only add to more density. Even local cops, I hear, are outraged by the project.

But how does a surfeit of rentals make housing less affordable? Doesn't a larger supply automatically mean better pricing?

No, it doesn't. Not when it comes to rentals.

While it's a good thing to get people into rentals they can afford, the City already has a surfeit of rentals--which drives the prices of rentals up, not down. The City's rentals make for 61% of our housing stock. In healthier cities, the rental-to-owner-occupied ratio is a solid fifty-fifty.

When a city has too many rentals, the way LA and NYC do, there are necessarily too few owner-occupied units. Many people in the middle income area who in other cities would own homes get stuck in the top tier of the rental market. Because there are too few homes to buy, the prices on homes stays out of reach for the top tier of renters--people who would be homeowners in a city with a stronger supply of homes to own.

This makes for a "missing rung" on the city's housing ladder. By widening the local pool of renters, rather than making for a consistent balance of rentals and owner-occupied homes, we only add to the problem, and make housing less affordable overall.

Even if the Samoa project were scaled down to four units, the fact that it adds to the City's rental stock at all accomplishes nothing other than move the rental-to-homeowner ratio a little further in the wrong direction, making for a larger pool of renters hopeful to own homes--pushing property values upwards, and homes further out of reach of first-time owners.

The public is invited to comment on the project by November 2. In my opinion, the public should only make one comment: that this Samoa project must be stopped, and that Krekorian is the man in the best position to stop it.

(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He blogs at street-hassle.blogspot.com where this column first appeared.) –cw

Tags: Paul Krekorian, Sunland Tujunga, Samoa Avenue, Joseph Mailander




CityWatch
Vol 9 Issue 85
Pub: Oct 25, 2011

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