The Alliance for Community Transit — Los Angeles (ACT-LA) first expressed our opposition to SB 827 in a letter signed by 36 other housing and transit justice groups in February.
As a coalition representing low-income Angelenos throughout the region, we believe that in order to address our housing crisis, development policy must aggressively facilitate the production and preservation of affordable housing, increase tenant security and be focused on preventing more homelessness.
SB 827 has ignited a contentious statewide conversation about transit and housing, but as we detail below, it fails to achieve the above goals and it undermines local strategies to advance equitable development. In short, we don’t believe that SB 827 is the answer. We encourage Senator Wiener and others who care about housing and transit to engage in a new, statewide dialogue including all impacted stakeholders that is aimed at making transit-rich neighborhoods places where all residents can prosper.
An Equitable Development Approach
ACT-LA recognizes the importance of increasing density around transit in an inclusive manner that addresses community needs and incorporates equity frameworks. Such an approach requires a mix of policies that prioritize low-income communities and communities of color, advance fair housing priorities, protect tenants and create affordable housing.
Our coalition focuses on local solutions that build the power of our communities. We engage historically excluded groups to write and pass equitable development policy, to participate in community planning and other planning processes, to write and monitor local fair housing plans, and to generate local revenue for preservation and production of affordable housing. We have, and will continue, to work with our regional transit agency on value-capture and anti-displacement provisions in our expanding transit system. We support our members’ and allies’ work on tenant rights such as rent control, just-cause eviction, fair wages and housing solutions for people that are homeless.
And, while we support a state law framework that advances housing and public transit, that framework must build upon and support equity solutions already in place, and ensure that there is dialogue with the communities these policies purport to serve. And it must not put one strategy above the other; rather, it must be designed to ensure production, preservation and tenant protection policies move forward together.
ACT-LA encourages consideration of the following statewide equitable development approaches.
1) Ensure all density increases across the state contribute to fixing the affordable housing crisis and providing good jobs. To ensure that our cities are developed for all income earners, we must require that any increases in residential density across the state (both parcel-based and plan-based) are paired with significant affordability provisions that strengthen and don’t undermine local programs, along with full protections against displacement for renters, including one-for-one replacement requirements for any residential units on the property in the past 10 years and resourced right of return programs requiring covenanted affordable units and oversight. An equity approach also requires that development provides good jobs and functions as a pathway to these jobs for disadvantaged workers.
2) Strengthen state density bonus law to provide for increased affordability requirements and density near transit. State density bonus law already recognizes the importance of pairing increases in the building envelope with affordability. If paired with the inclusive zoning standard outlined above, we would encourage consideration of an amendment to state density bonus law that provides for greater density increases than the law currently provides for projects in transit areas that include significant and deep levels of affordability. Such a program must be structured in a way that strengthens rather than undermines local programs, and includes full protections against displacement for renters, including resourced right of return programs requiring covenanted units and oversight, and one-for-one replacement requirements for any residential units on the property in the past 10 years.
3) Repeal of the Ellis and Costa Hawkins Acts. The Ellis Act and Costa Hawkins Act have long stood in the way of cities’ ability to enact and enforce meaningful tenant protections. Any state bill package with tenant displacement impacts must also enable and empower tenants to organize for local rent control and require stringent rules against unfair evictions.
Background: Developing a Los Angeles for All
Los Angeles is the homeless capital of our nation. Over sixty percent of Angelenos are renters, with another 34,000 unsheltered. Shelter insecurity impacts the ability to keep a job or stay in school while exposing people to serious mental and physical health challenges. In recent years, thousands of rent-stabilized units have been lost as homes have been demolished or converted to higher-end housing. Every eviction from stable housing creates additional risk of homelessness and need for more affordable housing.
As with all California jurisdictions, Los Angeles has state-mandated goals for housing production, at all income levels. The City exceeded its goal for market rate housing three years early, but has fallen woefully behind in developing affordable housing for those most in need. It is not enough to simply build more; we need to build equitably.
In response to this worsening affordability crisis, voters adopted Measure JJJ in November 2016 to ensure that increases in residential density were paired with affordable housing and no net loss policies. While density bonus law has existed for many years, developers often sidestepped its requirements by requesting and obtaining zone changes or other mechanisms to increase residential density without a corresponding provision of affordable housing.
Measure JJJ closed this loophole by ensuring the coupling of significant residential density increases with affordable housing and no net loss policies — consistent with the state density bonus framework. It also works with Los Angeles’ existing structure to respect and ensure community plan updates are done in a manner that furthers the goals of inclusive development.
Measure JJJ also created the Transit Oriented Communities Affordable Housing Incentive Program (the “TOC”), which applies to all housing developments within a half-mile radius of major transit stops. The TOC is based on a tier system: the closer the development is to a transit stop, the greater the incentives. Developers can build projects with up to 80 percent more units than the zoning code allows, depending on the tier and base zone if they include a corresponding percentage of on-site affordable housing — at rates well above the density bonus maximums. There are incentives for providing good, local jobs and TOC projects are also eligible for reduced parking requirements — including no parking requirements for certain developments — and other incentives.
The TOC has been applauded by developers and community groups alike, and the LA Department of City Planning already reports wide interest in the program, with applications for dozens of projects in the just the first six months of the program.
Why is SB 827 the Wrong Bill for Los Angeles?
Los Angeles community based organizations and engaged residents have made great progress in recent years to adopt plans that intentionally align density with significant affordability and no-net-loss requirements in order to ensure that growth and development will include and benefit the lowest income households that are facing the greatest threats in our current housing crisis. Measure JJJ is just one such example. A recent community-led effort to engage in updates to the South and Southeast LA Community Plans — the Peoples Plan — has resulted in significant density incentives that are aligned with meaningful and deep affordable housing production near transit. In contrast, SB 827 will undermine community planning, weaken our progress, and cut out community input.
SB 827 undermines state and local programs that are actively working to ensure jobs and housing around transit for core transit riders.
SB 827 effectively upzones properties near transit, increasing land values and the potential for speculation without any corollary provision to reinvest that value into the community. It undermines current incentive-based programs that connect significant levels of affordable housing to increased density, including new comprehensive programs contained in the South and Southeast LA Community Plans, and it forecloses efforts underway for similar incentives in other Community Plan Areas. It undermines the existing state density bonus law framework which connects density increases and parking reductions to the provision of affordable housing. It also fails to exempt properties subject to Los Angeles’s Transit Oriented Communities Program; instead it attempts to require compliance with both, creating ambiguity and internal inconsistency.
SB 827 fails to address exclusionary communities and diminishes democratic process.
Although SB 827 is framed as “an unprecedented action against restrictive land-use restrictions with origins in racial discrimination and exclusion,” it makes no distinction between the exclusionary communities it is purporting to address, and low income communities and communities of color at risk of displacement. It does not recognize that displacement is a fair housing concern, and that it is disproportionately low-income communities and communities of color that have the most severe rent burden, and are most at risk of displacement. It does not constrain any community’s present ability to continue saying no to affordable housing by refusing to fund it. And it does not prevent any future race and class exclusion. It also does not address an influential community’s ability to block new transit and thereby block upzoning. What it will do is have a disproportionate, harmful impact on low-income communities of color that already live around, and use, transit.
Organizing of marginalized groups that want a say over their city’s future is a key part of local democracy and should be respected and uplifted, not undermined and dismissed.
SB 827 increases speculation and fails to adequately protect renters.
By dramatically increasing the allowable building envelope on land around transit, SB 827 will increase the likelihood that existing rent-stabilized and naturally occurring affordable housing will be destroyed, causing more evictions and more people living in cars and on the streets. Senator Wiener argues that his bill does nothing to prevent cities from prohibiting demolitions — but this misses the mark. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, 537,000 rent-stabilized units in Los Angeles alone would be covered by SB 827’s geographic reach. There are no guarantees that Los Angeles or any other city will prohibit demolitions (few do) and these units would simply be put at increased risk of destruction.
Among other things, SB 827 creates an effective windfall for large home-owning corporations like Blackstone, while putting further pressure on the renters that live in nearly a quarter of LA’s single family homes and are not protected by rent control. Also, SB 827’s recent amendments simply do not effectively protect renters — they do not ensure against speculative activity that incentivizes landlords to use the Ellis Act to empty buildings and then apply for SB 827 benefits. 97% of cities in the State of California do not have rent stabilization ordinances, making them particularly vulnerable to gentrification and displacement pressures. Any effective tenant protection strategy must incorporate meaningful input from affected populations, lessons learned from our state’s urban renewal history, and sufficient resources for implementation, enforcement and monitoring. Pegging limited renter protections to a massive statewide upzoning threatens to expose renters much more than protect them.
SB 827 will make it harder to build what we need around transit.
SB 827 will increase land values near transit, making it more difficult for 100% affordable housing developers to compete for transit-adjacent land. Given that the vast majority of transit riders in Los Angeles are low-income, this is exactly where we need to be preserving existing affordable housing and building more.
SB 827 will discourage localities from enacting future inclusionary or incentive-based programs
Although the bill leaves local inclusionary programs in place, it fails to recognize or acknowledge how many localities across the state do not have a local program, and we are concerned about the feasibility of establishing such policies after SB 827 upzoning is in place. Many of these ordinances are designed to couple density incentives with requirements to build affordable housing. With such incentives granted upfront through SB 827, it opens the question of whether cities can or will enact new incentive-based or inclusionary programs after SB 827 becomes effective.
The bottom line: SB 827 will not achieve its stated goals of combatting exclusionary zoning, will increase speculation, accelerate displacement and make it harder to build what we need around transit.
ACT-LA, along with our community partners, believes that new planning policy cannot be divorced from our planning history in LA and across the nation where low-income communities and communities of color were excluded from and harmed by the planning process. We do not oppose development, we do not oppose density, we do support multi-pronged strategies that result in meaningful community engagement and planning.
SB 827 does not meet the requirements of true equity-based development. We oppose it — but remain fully committed to ensuring planning and development works for all of Los Angeles and all of California.
 See: Medium https://extranewsfeed.com/my-transit-density-bill-sb-827-answering-common-questions-and-debunking-misinformation-226eaa7e1653 “And, if a city restricts demolitions of apartment buildings (as many do, particularly for rent-controlled buildings), those controls will remain fully in place.”