May 20, 2019

The Hometown Tour: Los Angeles

Roundtable participants sit down for the breakfast discussion.

Local leaders at the Hometown Tour: Los Angeles. Photo: Shane Karns for Axios

Last Thursday, Axios' Ina Fried hosted an Expert Voices Live discussion for the next stop on the Hometown Tour, digging into the state of affordable housing in Los Angeles.

Why it matters: 24 local leaders — organizers, officials, developers, and financiers — discussed how to house Angelenos and prepare residents for the future of living in the city.

1 Big Thing

Ina Fried kicked off the conversation by asking the participants what they hope most people could understand about the housing crisis in L.A.

Deputy Mayor Christina Miller talks at the Axios event.
Deputy Mayor Christina Miller shares her opinion. Photo: Shane Karns for Axios
  • Christina Miller, Deputy Mayor for City Homelessness Initiatives, hopes people understand that the homelessness crisis is a housing crisis. "There is still a pervasive mischaracterization that people that are experiencing homelessness are there by a choice or a moral failing...this misperception drives us to not tackle the issue in a smart way."
  • Jessica Lall, President and CEO at Central City Association, stressed the importance of empowering the YIMBY (yes in my backyard) advocates in neighborhoods, "We need to be more proactive about finding those people and giving them a voice in the process."
  • Melissa Chinchilla, Postdoctoral Fellow at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, noted that the issue is not fixed solely by getting people into housing, "People need a lot of support in getting integrated into the community afterwards."

Structural Barriers

Structural barriers, and the need for their elimination, was reiterated throughout the morning's conversation.

  • Rochelle Mills, President and CEO at Innovative Housing Opportunities, saw the largest barrier to be the years-long permit approvals process, mostly due to departmental silos. "If housing is truly a crisis, and we've got funding sources, we should be able to turn those projects into housing within 12-18 months."
Woman speaking at Axios event.
Rochelle Mills, President and CEO at Innovative Housing Opportunities, talks about structural barriers to affordable housing. Photo: Shane Karns for Axios
  • Carmel Sella, Senior Vice President and Local Government Relations Manager at Wells Fargo, spoke about the financial barriers, "A project can have seven or eight financing sources...if everyone comes together and has a harmonized process it would very much speed things up."
  • Mark Vallianatos, Policy Director at Abundant Housing, highlighted the exclusionary zoning barrier, an effort that doesn't permit multi-family housing: "If we can fix exclusionary zoning, it could go a long way."

Conversation and Collaboration

Steve Glenn shares his opinion at the Axios event.
Steve Glenn talks about the need for collaboration. Photo: Shane Karns for Axios

Ina asked the group if conversations like the breakfast roundtable — housing experts gathered in one room — happen often enough. Two participants gave examples of when collaboration lead to success.

  • Steve Glenn, Founder and CEO at Planet Prefab, described the integrated design process that is critical for prefab building, "Our projects are 6 to 9 months, and they can be lower cost...but there is tight integration between the design firm, factory, and others."
  • Rebecca Clark, President and CEO at LINC Housing, emphasized the need to start the conversation at the other end, "Start by saying 'this is how much we have to work with' and then reverse engineer the housing project with the architect."' This leads to lower-cost and efficient building.

Some Success

Lee Raagas, CEO at Skid Row Housing Trust, reminded the group of the success that is happening in Los Angeles:

There is an increased awareness and knowledge about what it takes holistically to do this — real estate development, empathetic property management, and full-spectrum services ... We are not just having discussions, people are looking at how to execute. We are moving the needle.

Thank you Wells Fargo for sponsoring this event.

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