What Will It Take to Get Pro-Housing and Anti-Displacement Advocates on the Same Side?

The Yucca-Argyle Apartments, which will be replaced by a 191-unit housing development, including 39 units affordable to low income households.

I'm a few months late to the party, but I just read this article in the LA Weekly and it was agonizingly short-sighted. To put it as briefly as possible, residents were organizing in opposition to a project in Hollywood, at the Yucca-Argyle Apartments, that would:

  • tear down 40 rent-controlled units, which reset to market-rate whenever a new tenant moves in;
  • replace them with 39 affordable units, which will be cheaper than all or most of the rent-controlled units, and won't reset to market-rate for 55 years; and
  • add another 152 market-rate units, which, like all new developments, will help relieve the housing shortage that's at the heart of our affordability crisis.

The fact that this basic math was completely overlooked was, to say the least, frustrating. But you know what, I get it: This article isn't really about the number of rent-controlled units lost, or new affordable units built. It's about the displacement of existing tenants. And it's an extremely important issue in its own right.

Greater Good Vs. Individual Impact

It's also a topic I've tried to be more sensitive to, because I think a big part of the divide between the pro-housing and anti-development/displacement factions comes down to a different area of focus. People like myself tend to emphasize "the greater good" at the expense of some specific individuals and sometimes even communitie; call it the "creative destruction," or "take one for the team" approach to housing affordability. The things I usually write about would improve affordability in a very broad sense, but, inevitably, some individuals would be left behind—those who are evicted from rent-controlled units in order to replace them with larger mixed-income developments, for example.

The anti-development people—at least the ones sincerely interested in helping low and moderate income Angelenos (i.e., not the people behind the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative)—also care about affordability. Their goal isn't to make things worse at a regional level, their focus is just more granular and immediate. It's about the disabled veteran being displaced, today, or the fixed-income retirees who will have no hope of finding an affordable replacement if their rent-controlled home is demolished. Those people can't wait for Mayor Garcetti's 100,000 new units, or count on winning a lottery to occupy one of the Yucca-Argyle's 39 affordable replacement units, and they need someone standing up on their behalf right now.

So I think we, the "pro-housing" folks, need to do a better job of meeting "the antis" where they're at. The fact is, we can build more housing and strengthen the safety net for displaced households at the same time, we just haven't done it yet. There's nothing intrinsic to the goals of one side or another that makes me think we can't work on this together.

Here's a stock photo of roughly what I have in mind.

A Pro-Housing, Pro-Tenant Platform

We just need a platform that addresses both sides of the issue at the same time. For example:

  1. We support increasing the supply of all housing types to meet the growing demand for housing in our region, now and into the future, and we support policies that maximize the amount of affordable housing produced by private developers at no cost to the public.
  2. We stand for strong tenant protections, and declare that all residents deserve a safe and healthy living environment free of harassment from landlords or property owners. We believe that when tenants are evicted to make way for new housing, they deserve adequate compensation and should receive priority placement in new affordable housing or immediate access to housing choice vouchers, when needed.
  3. We believe that affordable housing is the responsibility of every resident, and thus support an affordable housing trust fund that is consistently and generously funded by citywide, progressive sources such as a parcel tax.
  4. We recognize that Southern California is a wellspring of opportunity for people of all incomes, educations, races, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations, gender identities, and other markers of a diverse and vibrant population. As such, we strive to welcome new residents to the greatest extent possible, in order to foster their potential and harness it for the good of our region.

Specific recommendations could include an acquisition-based affordable housing program, which would provide a large source of affordable units to absorb displaced tenants when their units are demolished.

We could demand that evicted tenants receive compensation whether the property owner builds a hotel, condominiums, or anything else on the new site, so that we don't end up with "miscarriages of justice" like that seen on Cherokee Avenue

To provide a release valve for all the new housing we need, we could advocate for the repeal of Proposition U, with concurrent requirements that the zones affected set aside at least 25 percent of new housing for low and moderate income households.

We could work to support organizations that represent mistreated or unfairly evicted tenants in court, even using "community benefit" money provided from new development to fund these efforts.

We could work to improve the density bonus so that when new developments are built, they always maximize the amount of affordable housing they build.

And, of course, we could start by meeting up and having some beers together to talk it all over. Everyone's got their focus and their expertise, and I freely admit that mine is not local and individual displacement impacts, nor how best to resolve them. What's missing from the platform? How can we make it better? You've got my email.