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'Build Better LA' Affordable Housing Proposal Qualifies For November Ballot

Build Better LA backers at a press conference Monday morning. (Photo courtesy of the Alliance for Community Transit)
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The backers of a local affordable housing ballot initiative announced Monday that they had enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.The Build Better LA initiative, as it's known, was spearheaded by the L.A. County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) and the Alliance for Community Transit, who together led a coalition of more than 40 organizations, including affordable housing, community and faith-based organizations, in signature-gathering efforts. The nearly 94,000 signed petitions (62,000 valid signatures are required to qualify for the ballot) were turned in Monday morning, as a chain of workers in uniform delivered one box at a time directly to the City Clerk's office.

The Build Better LA initiative would incentivize the construction of affordable housing near transit hubs and require developers seeking zoning changes from the city (i.e. asking to increase the height of a building, etc.) to set aside a certain amount of units as designated affordable housing. The initiative would also include a local hiring provision, which would require contractors to make a “good faith effort” to have at least 30 percent of their workers be permanent residents of Los Angeles.

Marcus Allgood, a South L.A. resident who helped lead signature-gathering efforts for L.A. Voice, an interfaith coalition of congregations across the city, told LAist that he got involved with the effort because of the changes and affordability struggles he has witnessed in his community. Allgood said that he has seen black-owned businesses struggling in the Crenshaw area, as high hopes for the new Metro Crenshaw line lead to real estate speculation and fancier retail in the area.

"In Leimert Park, which is a black cultural hub, there is a question of whether the neighborhood's artistic nature and black businesses will survive the mega-businesses coming up in the area," Allgood said. "Our rent was even being raised by our black landlord because they felt they could fetch a higher rate from more affluent whites in anticipation of the new Metro and the upgrades to the mall and shopping plazas."

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"If this was happening to us, who have a moderate middle class income, what was happening to the poorer people in the neighborhood?" Allgood asked, explaining that these questions were at the heart of his support for the Build Better LA initiative. Allgood led signature-gathering efforts outside of his mosque on Slauson and at grocery stores in South L.A.

"Right now, L.A. is the most rent-burdened city in the country because wages are stagnating while rent continues to increase," Mariana Huerta Jones, the Alliance for Community Transit's campaign and communications coordinator, told LAist, explaining that Build Better LA wouldn't just provide and secure affordable housing, it would also tie that housing to local jobs created through the development and construction of housing.

"It's really important that we not only have access to housing that's affordable, but also that people are earning good wages and able to live in the housing that they've built," Huerta Jones said. "That's why we want to make sure it's not just about producing and preserving affordable housing, but also making sure that there is access to good jobs."

At this point, some of our readers might be feeling a little confused—wait, didn't that construction ballot initiative that they said was about helping the city already get moved to next March? Well, sort of.

The ballot measure you are thinking of is AIDS Healthcare Foundation's growth-freezing Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, and yes, it did get pushed back to March, but no, it isn't about helping the city. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, despite its nice-sounding name, is a NIMBY wolf in sheep's clothing that would put a de-facto moratorium on big construction projects in the city. It would, as Conor Friedersdorf explained in a recent L.A. Times op-ed, "in effect wall off this city from newcomers on behalf of homeowners who don't want more traffic on 'their' streets," thwarting urban growth at a time when our city desperately needs to continue producing more affordable housing. As Friedersdorf writes:

The worst of the proposal: It “would place a two-year moratorium on any big development project that requires an exemption from the area's height requirement -- i.e. most tall buildings,” LA Weekly reports, “making an exception only for buildings that offer 100% affordable housing.” Don't be fooled by that exception. An architect could design a gorgeous tower for the Hollywood area with desperately needed affordable units for working-class families, young couples and single people just starting out.

If a developer found a loan to finance that project, but only by including several market-rate units on the side with a view of the hills, or putting a couple of penthouses for rich people on the top floor to make the financials work, that would run afoul of the 100% affordable provision. The net result would be zero new units of affordable housing.

Although the two ballot initiatives are no longer in direct competition, they certainly continue to epitomize two different ways of seeing the future in L.A.—one that prioritizes the construction of affordable housing, particularly around transit where it is needed most, and another that prioritizes exclusionary "neighborhood integrity" and car-centric single-family development. We are totally offering no opinion on this whatsoever and will let our readers decide for themselves.

"It's not the solution," Huerta Jones said of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. "We are in a housing shortage, we can't stop development. We want to make sure that our initiative is proactive, and that it's actually going to provide an incentive and a tool for developers to create more affordable housing and more high quality jobs."

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