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Housing Law Repeal Brings Challenge of Replacing It : Development: Demise of Long Beach ordinance leaves a void, and City Council members are far from reaching a consensus on how to fill it.

February 21, 1991|BETTINA BOXALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Now that the City Council has voted to repeal a much maligned affordable-housing law, it faces the much more difficult task of devising another program to replace it.

As council members voted 7 to 1 Tuesday to scuttle a law they had approved unanimously less than two years ago, they vowed to continue talks with developers and housing advocates to come up with a more appetizing alternative.

Yet it was obvious from their comments that council members are a long way from reaching a consensus about how to promote and preserve affordable housing in a city that has an above-average number of poor people.

The law that council members are abandoning required developers who tear down low-cost apartments to either replace them with an equal number of affordable units or pay a fee to a city housing fund. Although initially silent about the requirement, politically influential business interests vigorously lobbied for its repeal during the past year.

Developers say the city should instead encourage construction of affordable housing by offering incentives freeing them from various local requirements if they include a certain percentage of low-income units in new projects. Under this quid pro quo scheme, permissible density of qualifying projects would be increased by 30%, development standards would be lowered, and developers would be allowed to postpone the payment of certain city fees for five years.

Housing advocates have supported another approach--make developers build a certain percentage of low-income units in residential projects constructed on land formerly occupied by affordable housing.

Either proposal could be politically dangerous for the council. Business interests, which contribute heavily in local political campaigns, have clearly signaled they do not like affordable housing requirements.

But if the council consents to greater density and lower development standards, it will be making another policy U-turn, and inviting the wrath of homeowner groups. It was only recently that the council lowered density limits throughout the city in response to complaints that single-family neighborhoods were being ravaged by the construction of tacky apartment buildings.

"The business community has got to come up with more than going back to where we were," warned Councilman Tom Clark. "The business community has to come up with something other than density."

Councilman Wallace Edgerton, who has questioned whether the city really has an affordable housing shortage and has heartily embraced repeal of the replacement ordinance, also flatly declared that he did not want to increase density in his district.

"We really do have a Catch-22," Edgerton said. "I don't see (an answer)," he continued, going on to suggest that the issue of affordable housing might be too complex to handle on the local level.

Evan Anderson Braude, the only councilman to vote against repeal of the replacement ordinance, has said he would favor regulations mandating that affordable units be included in new projects.

"Voluntary anything has very seldom happened in this country when it comes to poor people," commented Councilman Clarence Smith, also expressing doubt about how well a housing law would work without mandatory requirements.

For Councilman Doug Drummond, the answer is promoting a program to foster the private construction of single-room-occupancy hotels, as has been done successfully in San Diego.

"If we put in SRO units . . . it creates a domino effect. It gives us the housing we need," Drummond contended.

Councilman Ray Grabinski was absent for the vote. An aide said he was in Chicago for a transportation conference in his capacity as chairman of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.

The repeal action will come back for a final vote next week. In the meantime, the council has extended a moratorium on the demolition of low-income units until April 9.

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