LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County has invested $182 million and leveraged $1.7 billion in public and private funds toward construction of 3,362 affordable apartments over the last five years, but a wider range of strategies are needed to solve a daunting shortfall of more than half a million affordable units countywide, according to a report by the Community Development Commission/Housing Authority Wednesday.
Representatives from the chief executive office and the CDC/HACoLA presented an update to the Board of Supervisors.
“Every $1 of county investment yielded $6.50 in development countywide of affordable housing,” CDC Executive Director Monique King- Viehland told the board.
The county has provided what King-Viehland characterized as an “unprecedented level of investment” in the wake of a 64 percent drop — nearly half a billion dollars — in federal and state support from fiscal year 2008-09 to fiscal year 2016-17.
“Since last year, Los Angeles County has tripled its investment in affordable apartments to $90 million, providing desperately needed help to many of our neighbors struggling with homelessness,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said.
“If you’ve heard the phrase `go big or go home,’ we go big so that people can go home,” King-Viehland said.
But Supervisor Janice Hahn pointed out that for all the county’s success in putting money to work, the scale of the problem is too big for the county to build its way out, given that the average cost of a single apartment is $400,000 or more.
“We cannot sustain this kind of investment for so few units,” Hahn said.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the county embarked on the plan “knowing it would never be adequate,” but it was worth “doing something … We have not solved the problem yet, but every time we house 1,000 people, that’s 1,000 more people who are stably housed and not on the street or at risk of falling into homelessness.”
King-Viehland highlighted a multi-pronged approach ranging from housing subsidies to preservation and proposals for rent control.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger recommended reducing regulatory barriers that drive up the cost of construction and Kuehl also asked for a breakdown of building costs for the county units, including land.
CDC/HACoLA, one of the largest public housing authorities in the country, reported housing 21,000 low-income households through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program; 1,418 special needs households through the Continuum of Care Program, which primarily serves people who are homeless or struggling with mental health issues or physical disabilities; and 1,754 veterans with housing vouchers. Landlord incentives helped another 850 formerly homeless individuals.
“Given the magnitude of the crisis, we must continue to scale up our response and use every tool at our disposal, from financial incentives and streamlined entitlements to creative policy making,” Ridley-Thomas said, calling on more cities to collaborate with the county to get housing built.
Two-thirds of the county-funded units built over the last five years were reserved for people struggling with homelessness, mental illness and physical disabilities. But finding an affordable place to live is difficult for a much broader group of Angelenos.
There is a shortfall of 568,000 homes affordable to the lowest-income renters. Los Angeles County has a historically low rental vacancy rate of 2 to 3 percent and more than 10,000 developments currently rented as affordable units are set to convert to market rates in the next five years.
To afford the median asking rent of $2,400 per month, a renter should be making $8,000 per month or $46.15 per hour, according to budgeting rules of thumb.
“This is not only two times that earned by retail staff, janitors, nursing assistants, teachers and construction workers, but, perhaps even more poignant, it’s four times that of the minimum wage in Los Angeles County,” said Doug Baron, senior manager in the CEO’s office.