This week, The Chronicle of Social Change is publishing a series of posts from leading candidates running to succeed Mark Ridley-Thomas on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Ridley-Thomas is stepping down because of term limits, and a full slate of candidates is running to take his place on the board, representing more than 2 million residents across parts of South, Central and West L.A., as well as several other communities in L.A. County.
On March 3, voters will go to the polls to elect his successor, who will help oversee an annual budget of $33 billion.We asked several top candidates to share their ideas on the county’s critical safety-net challenges, such as child welfare, juvenile justice, homelessness and affordable housing. To hear more about these issues, join us at a nonpartisan candidates forum on January 31 at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, hosted in partnership with Southern California Grantmakers and United Way of Greater Los Angeles.
Today’s responses answers concern a hot-button issue: the role the county should play in protecting residents caught in the throes of L.A. County’s affordable housing crisis.
The Second District has become very unaffordable for many Angelenos. What is your plan for affordable housing — especially for protecting residents and the fabric of their communities in the wake of an affordability crisis?
Jake Jeong: It’s no secret that Los Angeles is on a difficult road. Rents are skyrocketing. Every day we see more luxury apartments and condos appear on the skyline, even though there seems to be no growing demand for these luxury units. Costs are going up while wages are staying stagnant. This is unsustainable.
California law dictates that affordable public housing must accompany these luxury developments, but it does not. Instead, public housing projects stay mired in a bureaucratic swamp. In the three years since Proposition HHH allotted $1.2 billion to build 10,000 affordable units, just one singular development has opened to the public. These projects are being held up indefinitely by “soft costs” like permitting fees and a limited pool of developers. We all know what that means, even if no one wants to say it: the money is going into someone’s pockets. This billion-dollar program has resulted in just one development over three years. How many high-end homes have been built in that time? It’s impossible to say, but it’s certainly more than one. Ask yourself: why are those in this city so much more capable of building homes for the wealthy, when there is a higher demand for the working people?
Our working families simply cannot afford this. The wage increase just is not high enough to combat the rapidly rising cost of living. Many of our residents work multiple jobs just to keep their heads above water, only to find out even that’s not enough. After paying the exorbitant rents and childcare costs of our county, most families barely scrape by. They are at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords eager to find loopholes in rent control policies. Tenants who have lived in their homes for decades find themselves facing eviction, and families find themselves on the streets.
We need to support our working families with proper housing policy. L.A. must do better to protect its tenants. Though it recently enacted a 4 percent rent control policy, this is just not enough to bridge the gap between rising costs and stagnant wage increases. While it does represent an improvement, it certainly doesn’t come close to a lasting fix. Recent studies have found that rising rents in high-cost areas lead to an increase in homelessness, putting already at risk people on the streets. More than half of our homeless population cite “economic hardship” as the cause of their situation, or at least a major factor. Any measures the city has taken so far are Band-Aids. They won’t solve the problems for good.
That’s why I am running for L.A. County supervisor in 2020. We must build more real affordable housing. This is how I’ll do it.
(1) We have the resources. We have the money. But they are being woefully mismanaged by our leadership. No politicians are exploring ways to reduce the cost and make it more cost-efficient. My plan for modular home construction will save the city almost half a million dollars per unit, create three times as many units as currently planned, and do so in a fraction of the time.
(2) I want to return transparency to government spending. The budgets for these projects should be public knowledge. We deserve to know how the dollars that impact our community are being spent. The government has the resources to help this problem, but those resources are being held hostage to wealthy outside interests.
(3) I will build real affordable housing that doesn’t come with an expiration date. One huge aspect of our housing crisis is that affordable units are only legally required to remain affordable for a limited time. When this time is up, landlords can, and very often do, increase rents arbitrarily, essentially evicting the working-class tenants no longer able to afford their homes. They are forced onto the streets. This becomes the driving force of gentrification in our community.
If we let our politicians stay the course, if we work to keep the same broken system in place, before long we will have wasted more than $4 billion, with no improvement to show for it. We need to expedite construction by implementing cheaper and faster methods, like my modular model, and building real affordable and public housing that ensures our residents will stay housed.
Holly J. Mitchell: Housing is a human right. We must safeguard existing housing to prevent communities from being pushed out of their homes while creating new forms of affordable housing throughout the county. This means identifying the gaps in retaining and gaining access to affordable housing that our community members are falling in. I will work to achieve this by: Working to increase resident incomes with good paying jobs from high growth industries; extending subsidized housing and supportive services to qualifying residents who rely on CalWORKs for rental payments and increasing accountability in ensuring new developments include an adequate ratio of affordable housing units in relation to what is needed in the community.
Herb J. Wesson, Jr.: As supervisor, I will be committed to connect business, labor and nonprofit industry leaders with every sector of government to develop an efficient, county-wide government-structured affordable housing plan. It’s critically important that we have a diverse range of voices working together to craft these solutions because this is a problem that requires buy-in and commitment from every single one of us.
Given the colossal nature of the affordability crisis, we need bold, outside-the-box policies, such as:
- Replicating my city council policy of building affordable housing units on underutilized government owned property such as vacant lots and schools by implementing a program to build housing on county-owned land for county residents, marshalling the economic resources of county government to build housing close to well-paying jobs, with quality construction through project labor agreements and affordable rents and/or affordable ownership opportunities, providing affordable housing to every resident. This includes creating first-time homebuyer programs that residents can afford.
- Constructing more micro units near civic centers across the county, which will allow us to build tens of thousands of new, more affordable units for middle-class Angelenos, create significant social impact using underutilized space, and put less strain on the county’s utilities and other county services.
- Incentivizing innovative building solutions such as 3-D printing and recycling shipping containers to reduce cost and make every dollar count. This includes calling for an immediate study into the feasibility of 3D-printed affordable housing construction across the county, which industry-leading companies claim can create a 650-square-foot home in less than 48 hours for approximately $10,000.
- Earmarking units in market-rate developments for families in need of affordable housing.
- Establishing a public bank to provide low-interest loans to build affordable housing.
- Providing safe housing for domestic abuse survivors.
Additionally, since the passage of the 2011 Budget Act, which dissolved over 400 redevelopment agencies, including the City of Los Angeles’ Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), local governments across the county and state have been at a severe disadvantage in dealing with their homelessness and poverty problems. Redevelopment agencies like the CRA helped to attract private investment in economically depressed communities; eliminate abandoned or unsafe properties throughout Los Angeles; revitalize older neighborhoods through historic preservation and new development; build new housing for all income levels; encourage economic development; and create and retain employment opportunities. I am committed to fighting for funding and re-establishing local housing redevelopment agencies across the county that can help create incentives to build more affordable housing in every neighborhood of L.A. County.
Throughout my career, I’ve consistently been ahead of the curve on developing and implementing groundbreaking policy and achieving what people say cannot be done. With the significant county budget and the executive decision-making powers vested in the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, I am confident in my ability to mitigate this housing crisis.
Jan Perry: Our current housing situation is a crisis that is decades in the making, and addressing it is among my top priorities. I understand that the County of Los Angeles is approximately 500,000 units behind in meeting the demand for housing. There is some agreement about where growth and development work well, especially in places like downtown L.A., within many cities in the county, and within the network of transit corridors and hubs.
I will do all I can to address this crisis. I will develop policies in partnership with cities in the second district to provide technical assistance and grants to update housing and specific plans, create funding mechanisms like affordable housing trusts or enhanced infrastructure financing districts, and expedite the construction of affordable housing.
I would also like to dedicate monies to those communities that are in danger of being gentrified. Local legacy businesses and vulnerable homeowners should receive assistance to help protect their assets so they can stay in the community rather than being leveraged and displaced.
Stay tuned for more responses from candidates running for the second district seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week. You can RSVP for a community forum on these issues, taking place January 31 at Los Angeles Trade Tech College, by clicking here.