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Proposed Affordable Housing In Venice Sparks Debate About L.A. Development

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A plan to put affordable housing in one of the country's most expensive rental markets will be considered by the Los Angeles City Council, and has sparked a debate about how to best tackle Los Angeles' ongoing housing crunch.

A proposal from Councilman Mike Bonin submits that a 3.2-acre lot in Venice, owned by Metro, is slated to be developed into affordable housing, offering families who make less than $30,000 annually a place to live. Reporting from The Argonaut shows how Bonin's proposal, approved by Metro two weeks ago, comes with the full support of County Supervisor Shelia Kuehl and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. It represents the first attempt to build new affordable housing in Venice in years, spurred by Metro's own development policy that requires at least 35 percent of any new units built on Metro owned property are designated affordable housing.

As such, the bus yard sitting at the intersection of Sunset Avenue and Main Street seems to be a perfect location for a new Metro-sponsored development. It's no secret Venice is a veritable desert of affordability, where finding even a one-bedroom apartment for less than $2,000-per-month is almost impossible.

"This is a foundational issue of whether or not Los Angeles survives long-term as a society. It's a huge moral imperative that we have housing in Los Angeles that people can afford," Bonin said to the Argonaut. "It's very important, I think, for government and neighborhoods to have some skin in the game—to use our assets to help provide affordable housing."

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Building affordable housing in Venice is a step to reverse the decades-long process of Venetian stratification. Less than 20 years ago, the median sale price in Venice sat at approximately $350,000. Today that value hovers around $1.6 million.

As with every other case of gentrification, the working- and middle-classes get priced out. Of course, those who get priced out of neighborhoods still need to work in the neighborhood, meaning service-sector employees and LAUSD teachers alike perform epic commutes across the region to get to their jobs.

While everyone can agree rents are out of control, and Venice is basically one of the least accessible neighborhoods in all of Southern California, not everyone agrees that building affordable housing is the best way to combat the trend.

An op-ed published last week in the Los Angeles Times, by Conor Friedersdorf, argues that the Venice plan is "wildly inefficient," and represents a misappropriation of resources that could be applied better elsewhere to combat L.A.'s housing crisis.

"One small affordable-housing development cannot alter the neighborhood's trajectory" Friedersdorf writes. "But that doesn't mean ever more rapid gentrification is inevitable."

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Instead of building on this particular plot of land, Friedersdorf argues it would be better iMetro sold this piece of land, and used the sale-money to build more housing elsewhere in the city. Friedersdorf certainly has a point. One development will do little to alter Venice's inflated real-estate landscape. But where Friedersdorf sees inefficiency, others, like Supervisor Kuehl, see a chance to reintroduce a semblance of a mixed-income neighborhood and fight economic segregation.

Kuehl tells the Argonaut:

There's an ongoing dialogue about whether it's better to sell off public properties that are in very high-value areas and use the money to do a lot of development in lower-cost areas, or go for a mixed-population area so that we don't have enclaves of rich and enclaves of poor. I personally favor the second approach, which is to build affordable housing even in areas where the land is very valuable, because otherwise whole swaths of the city are totally out of reach, and they're usually the most desirable swaths [with] beach access, green space, all the kinds of things that make life better.

Los Angeles is one of the economically segregated cities in the country. While development booming across the southland, most of it caters to affluent tenants and condo-buyers who have the funds to drop $3,000-per-month on housing.The Venice project is a unique proposal. And while it's a long way off and requires historically controversial rezoning, it represents a fundamentally different attitude to development than the price gouging we've gotten used to.