Mon, Mar

In LA, It’s an Affordable Housing Crisis, Stupid


SO-CALLED ‘CHANGE’ AND ‘DISPLACEMENT’-For too long, whenever City Hall politicians and developers want to approve and build another luxury-housing project, they conveniently use the excuse that Los Angeles is experiencing a “housing crisis” — it gives them political cover. But the facts point to a more specific and troubling problem, which they’d rather ignore. To borrow a phrase, LA is facing an affordable housing crisis, stupid. 


It’s worth repeating. LA is not simply facing a housing crisis, but an affordable housing crisis, which, in turn, is sparking citywide gentrification and homeless crises. That’s all becoming clearer and clearer as data continues to roll in. 

In 2015, a key report from the city’s Housing and Community Investment Department to Mayor Eric Garcetti noted that the “severe lack of affordable housing is a pervasive problem facing the majority of City residents. Today, working-class and middle-class Angelenos, both renters and owners, in Los Angeles face high housing costs.” 

The city report is a doozie, and one wonders if Garcetti has ignored it. 

The report further states, “An inability to supply enough housing for diverse income groups is contributing to eroding confidence in Los Angeles’ potential to promote income and social mobility.”

Put simply, the Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID) is stating that LA is facing an affordable housing crisis. 

At City Hall meetings, however, politicians and developers constantly push for more luxury housing projects by saying LA is facing a “housing crisis.” It’s a convenient, non-specific argument that allows politicians and developers to approve and build any kind of housing they want — in most cases, that’s expensive luxury units that rake in more profits. 

But luxury housing is not what most LA residents need, and it’s not attending to the city’s real problem: an affordable housing crisis. 

That’s bolstered by the fact that the HCID report found that LA has a “high” luxury housing vacancy rate of 12 percent — that means there’s plenty of housing available for the affluent, generally people who make $100,000 or more. 

The city report further notes, “The high vacancy rate for newer, more expensive housing exemplifies the disparity in the type of housing being built demonstrating that new, higher cost housing is out of reach for many Angelenos.” 

Zillow, the real estate site, recently released two telling studies: its August 2017 “Rent Report” for LA and a report that links rising rents to a larger homeless population.  

The rent report found that Los Angeles’ rents continue to skyrocket, unlike many other cities in the U.S. 

“As rents have increased in Los Angeles,” the report states, “a few other large cities nationwide have seen rents grow more modestly, or in some cases, even decline. Compared to most similar cities across the country, Los Angeles is less affordable for renters.” 

In the other report, Zillow noted two main facts. That the “relationship between rising rents and increased homelessness is particularly strong in four metros currently experiencing a crisis in homelessness — Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and Seattle.” And nearly “2,000 more people would fall into homelessness in Los Angeles if rent climbed an average of 5 percent. Rents there rose 4.2 percent over the past year.” 

So, LA’s rents are not only increasing, but more people are at risk of becoming homeless. One can only describe that as an affordable housing crisis. 

LA’s homeless crisis, which was declared a “state of an emergency” by Garcetti and the LA City Council in 2015, has already jumped a shocking 20 percent from 2016. 

Mayor Eric Garcetti and the LA City Council’s willingness to do the bidding of luxury-housing developers, who are top campaign contributors at City Hall, is also creating a citywide gentrification crisis. It’s another strong indication of a citywide affordable housing crisis. 

Under Garcetti’s supervision, there’s a unit called the Los Angeles Innovation Team, or “i-team.” Without much fanfare, it created two databases to measure gentrification and displacement in LA: The Los Angeles Index of Neighborhood Change and the Los Angeles Index of Displacement Pressure. 

As one who loves to tout the city’s newest technologies, Garcetti has largely been hush-hush about these two databases. It should also be noted that “neighborhood change” is a City Hall code word for gentrification. 

The neighborhood change and displacement pressure indexes show that across Los Angeles lower- and middle-income residents are being displaced, and neighborhoods are becoming gentrified, due to rising rents and a lack of affordable housing. 

The mayor’s neighborhood change index looked at 111 areas/neighborhoods in LA and found “very high” to no gentrification. A map that comes with the index shows that every section of LA — from the Eastside to the Westside to the Valley to South LA — is dealing with some level of gentrification. 

The i-team gave rankings to each of the 111 areas/neighborhoods based on zip codes. The top ten most gentrified sections of LA are: 1) Downtown; 2) Downtown/Arts District; 3) Westlake/Downtown; 4) Downtown/Pico-Union; 5) Silver Lake/Echo Park/Westlake; 6) Hollywood; 7) Chinatown/Arts District; 8) Hollywood; 9) Venice; 10) East Hollywood/Silver Lake. 

Other ranked neighborhoods/areas that are under serious threat of more gentrification include: 11) Silver Lake/Atwater Village/Elysian Valley/Echo Park; 12) North Hollywood/Valley Village/Toluca Lake; 13) Los Feliz; 14) Highland Park/Montecito Heights; 15) East Hollywood/Larchmont Square.

You can’t have such citywide gentrification without widespread housing that’s unaffordable for lower- and middle-income people, who include senior citizens, teachers, janitors, struggling artists and many others. 

Unsurprisingly, the displacement pressure index reveals similar findings as the neighborhood change index — and it can predict where gentrification and rising rents may overtake neighborhoods. So, while a section of LA may have “low” displacement pressure now, that still means that pressure is there — and gentrification with its unaffordable housing is looming. 

The i-team notes that “displacement pressure factors [in the index] capture areas with a high concentration of existing residents who may have difficulty absorbing massive rent increases that often accompany revitalization.” (“Revitalization” is another City Hall code word for gentrification.)

According to the map that comes with the displacement pressure index, South LA, the Valley, the Westside, the Harbor area, the LA Basin and the Eastside are all experiencing “very high” to “low” displacement pressure. In other words, residents across LA are feeling the pinch due to housing that’s unaffordable or becoming increasingly unaffordable. 

Taken altogether, the two databases show that LA is clearly experiencing an affordable housing crisis. 

By the way, the neighborhood change and displacement pressure databases are not just bringing bad news. They are excellent tools for community activists to understand what’s happening in LA and take action, holding Garcetti and the City Council accountable. 

The databases are especially good for activists in neighborhoods where displacement and gentrification are just starting to take root — effective interventions can be planned and implemented. 

The data keeps coming in, and it shows what City Hall politicians and developers don’t want to talk about. Los Angeles is not simply facing a “housing crisis.” More specifically, we are experiencing a serious citywide “affordable housing crisis.” Don’t let them tell you otherwise.


(Patrick Range McDonald is website editor and senior researcher at Coalition to Preserve LA.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.