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Priced out: Can high-density housing solve the affordability crisis? (#AffordableCA)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015, 7:00pm - 8:30pm
Tateuchi Democracy Forum Japanese American National Museum 100 North Central Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90012 Map and directions

“Los Angeles is a city of renters – many with the dream of owning their own homes – who'll never be able to.”—Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival.

A shortage of inventory, rising populations around job centers, and opposition to new development all make for higher prices and fewer options for Californians. Developers aren’t building new units fast enough to keep up with the numbers of people who need a place to live  – and there’s no end in sight.

On Wednesday, August 26, KPCC and the Milken Institute co-presented a forum at the Japanese American National Museum that focused on high-density development and the role it could play in addressing the state’s affordability crisis. KPCC housing reporter Josie Huang moderated the conversation.

Here we feature four main takeaways from the program, with insights from Huang and her panelists:

Overwhelming demand translates to high prices

· Housing prices keep growing because we cannot sprawl out any further, said Dana Cuff, professor of architecture/urban design and urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “There are a lot of people in the audience who consider themselves middle class and still can't afford anything.”

· “Barriers to density can lead to housing scarcity and higher and higher prices,” said Ed DeMarco, senior fellow in residence at the Milken Institute Center for Financial Markets. “Density isn't the solution alone, but it is not a great evil,” added William K. Huang, director of housing for the City of Pasadena.

Experts suggest readjusting views on high-density developments

·“‘We don’t wanna be like them’ was an L.A. slogan rejecting New York’s high-density mdoel. That's not in the city's future,” said Cuff. “I don't think we'll ever look like NYC. L.A. is a horizontal city," said Jeff Schaffer, vice president at Enterprise Community Partners. “Density does not just include high-rise apartment buildings, and it’s heavily based on zoning and repurposing properties.”

· The single-family home has served as a sign of success, creating an aversion to high-density housing. “L.A. has a bad history of density housing. No one would want it in their neighborhood even if it was them who qualified,” said Cuff. “The question isn't preservation of affordable units versus construction of new housing. We need both.”

· “We need to leverage the existing infrastructure that is underutilized due to low density. Housing was at the center of the last financial crisis and we still have not fixed it,” said DeMarco.

Density development would be a departure from the traditional Californian model

·  “Fundamentally, we need a societal commitment that every person in our community deserves a decent, safe and sedentary place to live,” said Schaffer. Cuff agreed, adding, “We need to shift the American dream from the single-family home to every family being able to have a home. Helping people to find the existing units is another way to help with affordable housing."

· “People who live in single-family neighborhoods in single-family homes are way over-housed,” said William K. Huang. “Like adaptive reuse and downtown buildings 15 years ago, the biggest under-utilized resource today is the single-family house.”

· “There will be an enormous build-out of our public transit, but we must ensure people of all income levels can live along these transit lines,” said William K. Huang.

The need for more housing is dire...for some

· “There is currently not enough incentive for developers to build housing for low-to-moderate income buyers,” said moderator Josie Huang. “We need to make this more of a win-win for developers. Communities have demand, so why aren't they doing it?” said DeMarco.

· “We need to build more housing units. Both affordable and market rate. Not just for millennials but also boomers who want to live in cities, away from suburban mode,” said DeMarco.

· “We're in a crisis situation. We need all hands on deck, all tools,” said William K. Huang. “The people who run Los Angeles are being run out of Los Angeles. We need to create more housing for our city.”

Watch the video above for more.

This program was the first in our series, “Rescuing the California Dream: Policies for an Affordable Future.” The series is co-presented by KPCC/Southern California Public Radio and the Milken Institute.

Thousands of Californians face the very real possibility of being priced out of their communities. These public forums will explore the rising cost of education and housing and the dwindling opportunity to reach, or remain within, the middle class. In the first three programs, leaders in government, business, academia and philanthropy will dissect the problems and search for solutions to California’s affordability challenge. A fourth installment will be part of the 2015 Milken Institute California Summit and will serve as a platform to provide expert analysis and inform potential policy recommendations.


Josie Huang, KPCC reporter covering housing (@josie_huang)


Dana Cuff: Professor of Architecture/Urban Design and Urban Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; Director of UCLA’s cityLAB. Her work focuses on affordable housing, modernism, suburban studies, the politics of place, and the spatial implications of new computer technologies. She founded cityLAB in 2006, and has since concentrated her efforts around issues of the emerging metropolis. (@danacuff)

Ed DeMarco: Senior Fellow in Residence at the Milken Institute Center for Financial Markets and a Visiting Professor in the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University. From September 2009 to January 2014 he served as Acting Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and regulator of those companies and the Federal Home Loan Banks. (@MilkenInstitute)

Larry Gross: Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a community-based organization that works to ensure tenants' rights and preserve affordable housing in the greater Los Angeles area. (@la_ces)

William K. Huang: Director of Housing for the City of Pasadena; former Acting Executive Director and Housing Director of the Community Development Commission of the County of Los Angeles, responsible for the County’s affordable housing & homeless programs, redevelopment, housing authority and community development activities.

Jeff Schaffer: Vice President and Southern California market leader at Enterprise Community Partners, where he oversees Enterprise’s programs advancing the development of affordable housing in Southern California. (@EnterpriseNow) 

@MI_CFM (Ed DeMarco, Milken Institute)
@josie_huang (Josie Huang, KPCC)
@danacuff (Dana Cuff, UCLA)
@la_ces (Larry Gross, Coalition for Economic Survival)
@EnterpriseNow (Jeff Schaffer, Enterprise Community Partners)