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Housing and Homelessness

Why Underused Hotels, Motels Could Be The Faster Path To Easing L.A’s Affordable Housing Gap

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The Cecil Hotel was successfully repurposed via adaptive reuse.
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A new report examining strategies to reverse Los Angeles’s critical housing shortage found repurposing commercial buildings, such as hotels, motels and vacant offices, could greatly increase available units.

Researchers at the RAND Corporation, which published the report, said that such adaptive reuse could provide 9% to 14% of the housing L.A. County needs to build over the next eight years.

Of the available options, hotels and motels would be the most feasible, said Jason Ward, the study's lead author and an economist at RAND, in a statement. Existing rooms could simply be converted into housing units.

The availability and usability of vacant office space, however, depends largely on local real estate prices and developers’s plans for the units.

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“The economics and logistics of such projects are complex,” said Ward. “Significant incentives for the conversion of these properties to both market-rate and affordable housing may be needed.”

Adaptive reuse has been successful in L.A. in the past. A paper published last year by UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation found that between 2014 to 2019, L.A. created about 28,000 housing units on commercially zoned land — far more than any other large metro area in California.

That’s thanks in part to an ordinance passed by City Council in 1999, which aimed to streamline adaptive reuse projects in distressed downtown buildings. The result is the current bustling neighborhood, where businesses thrive and renters flock.

Among the buildings that have been repurposed is the infamous Cecil Hotel.

The report issued by RAND identified about 2,300 commercial properties that could be appropriate for reuse. If their potential were maximized, the buildings could yield 72,000 to 113,000 housing units for L.A. County.

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