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Homes for the Poor Urged

Advocates seek law requiring developers to provide low-income housing.

May 16, 2003|Julie Tamaki | Times Staff Writer

Housing advocates on Thursday called for the city to require developers to offer new housing to poor residents -- a move that critics contend could stifle building activity in Los Angeles.

A coalition of labor and housing groups led by the Los Angeles chapter of the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now contends that the city needs an "inclusionary zoning ordinance" requiring developers to include a percentage of units for low-income residents. Proponents say that such ordinances have been used by more than 100 California communities to bolster the supply of housing for very low-, low- and moderate-income households.

More than three dozen coalition members joined representatives from Councilman Ed Reyes' office Thursday outside the Medici apartments, a new luxury development at 7th Street and the Harbor Freeway.

Some credit the development with reviving the construction of market-rate apartments in downtown Los Angeles, but others contend that it has caused rents in the area to rise.

"We have some members being priced out of neighborhoods because of projects like this," said Helen Coleman, an association member.

The Medici is located west of downtown Los Angeles in a 500-acre area that is governed by a plan requiring developers to earmark 15% of the housing they build for low-income residents or pay a fee.

But the city, eager for new housing downtown, negotiated with the developer, Brentwood-based G.H. Palmer Associates, and made an agreement that resulted in setting aside only 60 units out of 658 for moderate-income tenants.

The deal angered advocates of low-income housing who are pushing for a mandatory, citywide zoning law that would bar builders from paying a fee to avoid building housing for the poor.

The city's housing and planning committees are due to discuss the housing issue at an upcoming joint meeting.

Mayor James K. Hahn has indicated that he is concerned that an ordinance could cripple the production of housing in Los Angeles and hurt the local economy. Hahn and housing advocates appear to agree that it is a good idea to offer incentives to get developers to build mixed-income housing, but the mayor wants more information on which incentives get the best results.

A study by David Paul Rosen and Associates, which specializes in affordable housing and community economic development, concluded that incentives are the key to making the programs work without hurting housing production.

A local building trade organization does not support the strict zoning rules, however, nor does it believe providing affordable housing should be placed on the backs of builders or their customers.

"A mandatory inclusionary housing ordinance will kill the exact thing low-income housing advocates are seeking," said Ray Pearl, executive director of the Los Angeles/Ventura Building Industry Assn.

At least one builder believes an ordinance can work. Mercedes Marquez of Los Angeles-based McCormack Baron Salazar Inc. said her firm has developed more than 10,000 units across 20 states and has had plenty of success with mixed-income developments.

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