A recent vote by the Los Angeles City Council was an unwelcome reminder that it is way past time for those who represent Van Nuys, North Hollywood, Reseda, Pacoima and Canoga Park to reverse course and oppose additional high-density, low-income housing in these areas.
The council voted to link a city earthquake-repair program to more low-income housing. The program, proposed by the city Housing Department, will offer investors in earthquake-damaged apartments low- or no-interest loans, contingent on adding low-income units to the buildings. The interest rate will be 3% if the apartment owner reserves 20% of the repaired units for low-income housing; zero interest, if 40%.
This type of housing is usually called affordable housing. A better term would be slum housing, when it is built in densely populated areas.
The council members representing Northridge and Sherman Oaks objected--for a time--to this use of federal aid. "The purpose of this money was to help rebuild buildings," Councilman Hal Bernson said. "It was not intended for social engineering." Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky questioned the push for low-income housing units, saying that they might not be appropriate in every reconstruction project.
Both councilmen were obviously attempting to protect their earthquake-damaged communities from a city program that appears to be more concerned with creating additional low-income, higher-density housing than repairing earthquake damage. Quake repair, remember, was the intended use of the federal funds.
Potentially, parts of Reseda Boulevard near Cal State Northridge and stretches of several streets in Sherman Oaks north of Ventura Boulevard will see modest-sized apartment houses replaced with large ones. These buildings will bring all the problems associated with crowding of poor people into a cramped neighborhood. Similar unfortunate results could occur wherever there is damage to apartment houses throughout the Valley, with no study given to the desirability of imposing big, low-income units on particular neighborhoods.
High crime and decaying pride of ownership are among the burdens that high-density, low-income housing places on neighborhoods where it is concentrated. Police records firmly associate law enforcement problems with such housing projects.
Bernson and Yaroslavsky, unfortunately, gave in to the lure of low-interest loans. By the conclusion of its meeting on Oct. 7, the council had unanimously approved the program. I believe this to be an absolute misuse of earthquake relief funds. It will encourage more of the type of housing that has led to the decayed and crime-infested neighborhoods that now exist throughout the less affluent communities in Los Angeles.
If our elected officials really want to develop a successful affordable housing program, they must work jointly with developers to create housing that does not resemble a stucco prison but instead would instill a sense of community. This can be done much more effectively with detached single-family dwellings.
Developers must be given incentives to build smaller two- and three-bedroom single-family tract homes as starter homes, instead of the more common three- and four-bedroom tract homes.
We must rebuild in the earthquake-damaged areas of the city now. Creating a low-income housing program merely to replace damaged apartments is not addressing the affordable housing shortage in Los Angeles.
Historically, homeowners and not apartment dwellers have displayed the highest degree of pride in their places of residence. This is evident in many of the neighborhoods in Van Nuys, North Hollywood, Reseda, Canoga Park and Pacoima.
With the ever increasing population growth in Southern California and Los Angeles County, it is inhumane and insensitive to continue crowding people into one large apartment project after another. Such overcrowding might well be profitable for the landlord, but it has proven to be devastating to existing single-family residential neighborhoods.
My solution is not complex, and it would help revive the ailing construction industry and create jobs, while easing the crowding in existing apartments.