The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites (blue dots). Source: Metro
The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites (blue dots). Source: Metro
The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites (blue dots). Source: Metro

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In case you haven’t heard, we’re in a bit of an affordable housing crunch. According to the L.A. Times, “the city recently estimated that 82,000 additional affordable units will be needed by 2021.”

Non-profit developers have been aware of this problem for some time. Approximately 8000 families applied for the 184 units of affordable housing that the East L.A. Community Corporation has built in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles recently, while 1500 families vied for a spot in the 60-unit residence on Whittier Boulevard built by the Retirement Housing Foundation last March. RHF was expecting as many as 2500 applications for the affordable, 78-unit senior residence set to open next door. More than 1000 families applied to live in a 90-unit residence in Macarthur Park built by McCormack Baron Salazar on land owned by Metro. And these figures likely don’t include the folks who are desperate for housing but do not earn the minimum amount required to qualify for consideration.

But even as the need for affordable housing grows, the city’s ability to provide and maintain it has declined significantly. Since 2008, funding for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) has dropped from $108 million to approximately $26 million. And, despite Mayor Eric Garcetti’s vocal support for affordable housing, no new funds were allocated to the AHTF in the last budget. While L.A. will likely receive some of the (anticipated) $130 million in funds set aside for affordable housing from the first year of cap-and-trade, the funds will first need to be divvied up among municipalities across the state.

Which is why it was heartening to see the Metro Board move forward on its plans to set aside at least 35% of units built on Metro-owned land for affordable housing and to establish a fund to assist non-profit developers in building or preserving affordable housing on privately-owned land near transit.

It’s not a panacea, as discussion of the 30-page staff report assessing the viability of the plan made clear. And there is much left to be done in the way of hammering out funding structures and sources for the loan fund or the criteria for discounts on Metro-owned land to entice developers to build affordable units. But it is a step in the right direction.

The list of sites identified as potential housing sites. They are plotted on the map, at top. Source: Metro
The list of sites identified as potential housing sites. They are plotted on the map, at top. Source: Metro

The report in question resulted from a November motion requesting that the California Community Foundation and the California Endowment assist Metro in preparing a study examining:

1. Metro’s inventory of current and potential joint development sites along Metro’s Gold, Expo, Crenshaw/LAX, Regional Connector, and Purple Lines.
2. How Metro might partner with local municipalities to invest in transit corridor sites, potentially leveraging municipal housing funding.
3. The viability of requiring 30%* of Metro’s jointly-developed housing to be affordable housing (to date, of the approximately 2,017 units built on 9 Metro-owned sites, 622, or 31%, are affordable units). *The number has since been amended up to 35%.
4. Amending the existing Joint-Development policy to allow proportional discounts to the fair market value of MTA-owned property for the purpose of contributing towards the cost of affordable housing development.
5. The creation of a Countywide Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing (TOAH) loan fund, potentially in collaboration with local Community Development Financing Institutions, that would facilitate the development, improvement, or preservation of affordable housing within a 1/2 mile of a rail or Rapid Bus stop.
6. Establishing a TAP purchase program for residents of joint-development housing.

The report came down in favor of the policy, citing studies showing that those of modest income living near transit are more likely to use it and do so with greater frequency than wealthier residents would. It also underscored the importance of such a policy by acknowledging that the rising costs of housing near transit and the reduction in federal and state funds available for affordable housing could both displace poorer transit-dependent residents and, in doing so, inadvertently make them more car-dependent.

The study identified 19 potential Metro-owned sites for redevelopment, 10 of which it scored as viable for housing (listed below, and mapped out above). Those with low scores were seen as infeasible for housing due to size, location, or other constraints.

The report also suggested that Metro pursue a portfolio-wide approach to affordable housing rather than a project-oriented one. Ensuring that the total number of units across projects met the 35% benchmark instead of trying to build affordable units at each site would likely be more cost-effective and ensure that Metro would see a stronger revenue stream from market-rate units at the costlier sites. The approach would also make it easier for communities in need to see higher percentages of units dedicated to affordable housing and for others who did not value affordability in new projects to limit the number of affordable units available.

Among the boardmembers, the housing policy appeared to have a wide base of support. In his opening remarks on the agenda item last Thursday, Mayor Garcetti strongly endorsed the idea of Metro playing a greater role in preserving the affordability of transit-oriented communities. Underscoring the findings of the report, he said that, given that approximately 80% of Metro’s ridership hails from households earning less than $50,000 annually, it was important to ensure those residents’ continued access to transit by prioritizing affordability and the prevention of displacement around transit.

A number of boardmembers also expressed their support for the policy. Hilda Solis only asked that community engagement be considered essential to the process of planning for the Metro-owned sites, citing its importance in understanding how gentrification and displacement can impact poorer communities.

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