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Your guide to renting in this complicated — and expensive — place.

Plans Move Forward To Allow 135K New Housing Units In Downtown LA And Hollywood

A modern building on the left has OLYMPIC in large letters at the roof's edge, To the right a more traditional stone facade building with a U.S. flag flying on the roof. A clear blue sky is in the background.
New and old apartments buildings line the streets of Downtown Los Angeles.
(Chava Sanchez
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By some estimates, Los Angeles County has an affordable housing shortage of half a million homes. Part of that shortage has to do with local rules limiting where certain kinds of housing can be built. In parts of L.A., these rules haven’t been updated since the Reagan administration.

Los Angeles city councilmembers just took a major step toward refreshing those rules in two of the city’s vital urban cores, raising hopes and fears about the city’s future development.

The council’s powerful Planning and Land Use Management committee voted Monday to advance long-awaited community plan updates for Downtown L.A. and Hollywood. If approved by the full city council in a final vote expected in coming weeks, these plans would allow for 135,000 units of new housing in those neighborhoods.

Why new community plans are such a big deal

L.A. is suffering from a severe housing crisis, with a third of tenants in the city spending more than half of their income on rent. (The government's affordability standard is no more than 30% of your income.) Under state law, the city is required to plan for 455,000 new housing units by 2029.

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“The community plans are one of the most important tools to incentivize and produce new housing,” said Scott Epstein, policy and research director for the housing advocacy organization Abundant Housing L.A.

Community plans outline the land use rules and regulations developers must follow if they want to build new housing in a given area, Epstein said.

“That's everything from how tall buildings can be. What uses are permitted in certain areas — commercial, residential, light industrial. What kind of affordability requirements should be included,” he said.

Elected leaders want to channel much of the city’s new housing development into established urban cores such as Downtown L.A. and Hollywood. They see those neighborhoods as the most viable — most of L.A.’s residential land is zoned for single family homes and elected officials are focused on siting new apartment buildings in existing commercial corridors.

Doubling down on DTLA’s residential transformation

Downtown L.A. represents just 1% of the city’s land, but, if approved by the full city council, its new community plan would accommodate 20% of the city’s projected housing growth over the next two decades. Rezonings outlined in the plan would double the areas where housing can be built, allowing 100,000 new apartments and condos to be built downtown.

“You're going to see parking lots turn into housing."
— Scott Epstein, policy and research director for Abundant Housing L.A.

For years, downtown was plagued with vacant storefronts and apartments. But it has since undergone a sweeping residential transformation. This updated plan would encourage more conversion of old or underused commercial properties into apartments and allow new housing in manufacturing zones.

“I think we're looking at another transformation of downtown,” said Nella McOsker, president of the downtown business group Central City Association. “[There’s] really exciting potential for a key section of the city to help alleviate this housing crisis we see across the region.”

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Epstein said he thinks that by eliminating parking requirements for new housing in Downtown L.A., the community plan will encourage more residents to go car-free.

“You're going to see parking lots turn into housing,” he said. “I think you're going to see a lot more small businesses. With housing growth, you're going to actually see new schools pop up in some of these neighborhoods.”

How to get involved

  • L.A. leaders must approve the Downtown L.A. and Hollywood community plan updates by May 12, or the process will hit a deadline requiring city planners to start from scratch.

    What it will take to meet Skid Row’s affordable housing needs

    Housing advocates see downtown’s projected 100,000 units of new housing as a win for tenants struggling to find apartments in today’s crowded market.

    But during the community plan development process, some residents and workers voiced concerns about getting crowded out of downtown by a glut of expensive new housing. Homeless service providers in Skid Row and garment workers in the Fashion District were especially worried.

    Steve Diaz, deputy director of the L.A. Community Action Network and a member of a coalition of Skid Row advocates, said he was encouraged to see the committee’s updated plan include unique zoning rules for a section of Skid Row where housing developers would be required to make 80% of units in new developments affordable.

    “Homelessness ends with housing,” Diaz said. “And land use is one of the key tools in order to ensure that you're able to build enough housing.”

    White letters on a green bakcground read: Skid Row City Limit POP Too Many ELEV 2008. The seal of the City of LA is painted at the top.
    A sign reading "Skid Row" is painted on a wall next to the Los Angeles Mission.
    (Robyn Beck
    AFP via Getty Images)

    But some housing advocates wanted the plan to allow more market-rate housing in Skid Row.

    “We need to be building permanent supportive housing all across the city so that all of our communities are mixed-income, and we don't continue to concentrate poverty in certain areas of the city,” Epstein said.

    Diaz said the plan’s unique affordability requirements in Skid Row aren’t about concentrating poverty. He said this type of housing is needed there to “ensure that folks in this identified area are able to stay and are able to access resources that are built within that area.”

    Garment workers fight to stay in the Fashion District

    L.A. is home to 83% of America’s cut-and-sew manufacturing industry, and most of that activity is concentrated in Downtown L.A.’s Fashion District. Workers in this local industry are largely immigrants, mostly women, and in many cases earning less than minimum wage.

    "It's an existing industry that can't be ignored or dismissed or steamrolled for luxury development."
    — Marissa Nuncio, executive director of the Garment Worker Center

    “Development plans and land use are certainly not the typical issues that we work on,” said Marissa Nuncio, the Garment Worker Center’s executive director. “But downtown is the heart of L.A.'s garment district. And to change land use permissions to encroach upon that district was going to have a devastating effect on this industry.”

    Garment worker advocates successfully lobbied city councilmembers to adopt certain changes to downtown’s community plan update. The proposal now requires housing developers to include space for light manufacturing in new Fashion District buildings and gives developers incentives for preserving garment industry activity in future developments.

    Some business advocates think the plan passed in Monday’s committee meeting could stifle new housing.

    “The Fashion District has capacity for both new housing and industrial use,” said McOsker, of the Central City Association, arguing the plan “does leave the capacity for new housing on the table as it stands.”

    Nuncio said Downtown L.A.’s 20,000 garment workers often struggle to pay rent themselves, and they don’t want to block any new housing that could help tenants. But she said they don’t want to lose their jobs to the creation of new housing they could never afford.

    “It's an existing industry that can't be ignored or dismissed or steamrolled for luxury development,” Nuncio said.

    Hollywood’s community plan is stuck in the ‘80s

    Another developed urban area, Hollywood, could gain 35,000 new homes under the proposed community plan update approved in committee. The neighborhood’s existing community plan has not been successfully updated since 1988.

    Committee chair Marqueece Harris-Dawson joked, “I was watching Batman at Grauman’s theater, the one with Jack Nicholson, when this plan was passed.”

    The plan would allow developers to construct larger buildings in parts of Hollywood, with fewer costly parking requirements, in exchange for creating a certain percentage of affordable units.

    Councilmembers Hugo Soto-Martinez, Nithya Raman and Katy Yaroslavsky (who all have constituents in Hollywood) pushed to expand tenant rights, such as the right for renters to return to new properties if their building is demolished as part of redevelopment efforts.

    What's next

    While city officials debate the finer details of each community plan update, the clock is ticking. L.A. leaders must approve the Downtown L.A. and Hollywood community plan updates by May 12, or the process will hit a deadline requiring city planners to start from scratch.

    What questions do you have about housing in Southern California?

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