Los Angeles Builds 10 New Multifamily Homes For Every One It Tears Down

The Department of City Planning released a treasure trove of housing-related data earlier this month in the form of the 2015 Growth & Infrastructure Report.

And with relatively little editorializing, I'd like to bring people's attention to one bit in particular. Below is a table from the report comparing unit counts for new units, and demolished ones, between 2010 and 2015. I assume that most single family dwelling units (SFDUs) are torn down only to be replaced by larger single-family homes, so I recommend focusing your attention on the multifamily (MFDU) unit data (new, demolished, and net):

Overall, we demolished a little over 3,500 multifamily units over the 5-year study period. During that time, we built just over 35 thousand new ones: almost exactly a 10-to-1 replacement ratio. 

The ratios vary pretty dramatically between Community Plan Areas: in Wilshire, about 5 new MFDUs were built for every 1 torn down; in Hollywood, it was a little under 10 to 1; in Central City (downtown), the ratio was an astounding 200 to 1. Lots of parking lots bit the dust, but the housing that was there was pretty much all preserved.

If we're looking to hand out awards, Canoga Park and its environs take the prize with a 1,420:1 ratio of construction to demolition, though. But Chatsworth and Harbor Gateway deserve credit too: both of them break the universe with 1,194 and 178 new homes, respectively, and zero multifamily units lost. (Never divide by zero, people.) 

For me, this is pretty good news overall. The new housing that we're building, insufficient though it may be, is coming at the expense of relatively little existing stock. But we can do better.

For one, we can build more housing where none currently exists, like on parking lots and commercial strips. If we repeal Proposition U we'll end up with a lot higher construction-to-demolition ratio, and much less displacement—and less development pressure on single-family and low-density neighborhoods.

If we eliminate the "Parking (P, PB)" designation in our zoning code (yes, we literally have places in our city where nothing but parking is allowed to be built), that would help too. While we're at it, we should eliminate parking minimums entirely, since they just force developers to build more parking at the expense of housing. We currently have more square footage devoted to car storage than to human shelter, so even more space for cars really should not be a priority.

We should also upzone more of our transit-oriented neighborhoods, so that the most transit-accessible communities are able to build more housing for every unit replaced. We can have one household displaced for every 10 households, or one for every 50, and that's almost entirely determined by zoning. If it's one for every 50, it becomes a hell of a lot easier to force deveopers (or property owners, or the city, or whoever), to re-house any displaced families and provide more affordable housing in their new project.

And we should definitely improve our density bonus, making sure that every time a new building goes up, it's maximizing both its market-rate and affordable housing component. With historically low vacancy rates in the LA County region, we can't afford to scrimp on either.

Ten-to-one is good—great, even. But we can do better. And we know what it takes to get there. So, you know... let's.