Our FrameWORK series on the Los Angeles General Plan Framework Element is intended to introduce you to the citywide document that lays down the guiding principles for how Los Angeles will develop in the years ahead. In this article, we’ll be familiarizing you with the Framework’s Housing Chapter (Chapter 4), which is not to be confused with the Housing Element. The purpose of the Housing Chapter is to present an overview of the critical issues related to housing in Los Angeles, and provide goals, objectives and policies to guide future action to address them.
Housing is a major and complex topic, particularly in a diverse growing metropolis like Los Angeles. The entire region faces an extraordinary lack of affordability in 2014, leading to all kinds of problems, including unsafe conditions, congestion, poor air quality, homelessness, and less money for local businesses. Housing has always been a core concern of the City’s General Plan and the City as a whole.
Due to its statewide importance, local housing policy is also highly impacted by State requirements, including that every city prepare a housing element of its general plan every 8 years. The City’s Housing Element is a comprehensive citywide housing policy document, while the Housing Chapter of the Framework Element summarizes key issues and relates housing to the City’s overall vision for growth. State law requires elements of the General Plan to be consistent with each other.
Key Framework Housing Points
The Framework’s Housing Chapter begins with a summary of major housing issues facing Los Angeles:
Housing production has not kept pace with the demand for housing.
When new homes don’t keep up with population growth, a housing deficit is created and problems begin to arise. To illustrate the scale of the issue in Los Angeles, if housing growth since 1980 would have kept pace with population (see graph below), we would have needed to create an additional 105,000 housing units in the City. This housing deficit is referred to as a “historical backlog” in the graph below. Without those units, in 2014, residential vacancy is extremely low, illegal units have proliferated, housing prices are unaffordable to most, and too many workers in Los Angeles are forced to live far from their job. While re:code LA will not directly create new housing capacity through “up-zoning” (changing a zone to one which allows for a larger capacity), it will aim to increase predictability and transparency for new development and create a new palette of zones with a wide range of densities that may be applied, as appropriate, through subsequent community planning processes.
The supply of land zoned for residential development is constrained.
While there is not much vacant land left in Los Angeles, there are enough under-utilized residential and commercial-zoned properties in the City to accommodate projected growth for about 25 more years. However, some have argued that the significant reduction in zoning capacity that has taken place since the late 1960s (see below) may be a major reason for the overall reduction in housing construction and rapid increases in housing costs. The capacity for high-density housing that does exist is often located in areas of the City where market demand is weak or non-existent. The Housing Chapter aims to create additional capacity for new housing units, encouraging production of housing for households of all income levels, while at the same time preserving existing residential neighborhood stability.
Intensification can erode character of existing residential neighborhoods.
‘Intensification’ refers to increased density and intensity of use, which, in certain cases, can impact the integrity and character of existing residential neighborhoods. The Framework Element calls for striking a balance between the need to produce new housing and the desire to conserve the livability and character of existing neighborhoods. This is accomplished by directing growth to areas where it will have the least impact—regional and commercial centers—as well as transit nodes and mixed-use boulevards. The Zoning Code includes many incentives for this type of growth. re:code LA aims to create new zones, inspired by current regulations and best practices, that will help the City achieve higher quality, balanced development.
Physical design: not enough large units for families, not enough open space.
There are about 215,000 large family households in Los Angeles (with 5 or more persons). Although this represents about 16% of the City’s total households, only 10% of the housing stock is three bedrooms or more. The lack of units, combined with lack of affordability, result in overcrowding conditions. Table 1.21 from Chapter 3 of the Housing Element demonstrates the severity of the problem, as of 2010.
The locational relationship between jobs and housing.
When workers are not able to live close to their jobs, the effect is increased congestion, air pollution and transportation costs, and, of course, the aggravation and loss of family time associated with longer travel times. New public transportation lines are linking job and housing centers, which is changing the dynamics of the issue, but the challenge remains to connect workers with jobs as efficiently as possible. The Zoning Code, as well as a few Specific Plans, offers various incentives to locate housing near high employment centers.
The cost of housing is an issue throughout the City.
With the fastest increase in home values since 2000, Los Angeles has become the least affordable major city in the country to live in. While low incomes and demographic factors play a role, constraints to new development and insufficient preservation and production of affordable units also work against citywide housing supply goals. re:code LA will result in a Zoning Code that will be more accessible and clear, and is expected to improve the permitting process required of developments.
Housing Goals, Objectives, Policies and Programs.
The City of Los Angeles is committed to providing a variety of housing options and amenity-rich, sustainable neighborhoods for all its residents, answering to the variety of housing needs of its growing population. The Framework’s Housing Chapter identifies a number of goals, objectives, policies and programs, which aim to address the issues identified above. In order to adapt to changing needs, these have been expanded upon and modified in updates to the General Plan’s Housing Element (specifically Chapter 6). We believe this article provides a solid policy base from which to derive specific changes to the Zoning Code and for all of our planning efforts.
Where re:code LA Comes In
Zoning and housing are very much related. Many of the major changes to the Zoning Code over time have had to do with realizing citywide objectives around housing policy. For example, the City created an easier way to reuse old commercial and industrial buildings as housing (Adaptive Reuse) and increase the potential for homeownership options on small lots (Small Lot Subdivision). We’ve created new zones such as the Residential Accessory Services (RAS) Zone, which facilitates the creation of mixed-use higher-density housing along commercial corridors. A current zoning proposal, the Master Planned Development (MPD) Ordinance, would allow for master planned campus-like development projects, while ensuring some affordability when density exceeds planned standards.
The Zoning Code Evaluation Report prepared as part of re:code LA identifies a number of recommendations to increase housing affordability and diversity. These include improving regulations for secondary dwelling units, improving options for shared housing communities, and optimizing our housing incentive programs such as density bonus and the Greater Downtown Housing Incentive. More broadly, re:code LA promises to create a more streamlined and predictable permitting process to make developing quality housing easier, faster and more effective.
This article was written by Matthew Glesne, who is currently responsible for updating the City's Housing Element, as well as monitoring its implementation. If you have any questions regarding these housing policies, feel free to email him at [email protected].