Bill Boyarsky
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Villaraigosa tested on housing policy

A big test of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s commitment to liberal causes will be how hard he pushes for his plan to require developers to make room in their high- end projects for low and moderate income Los Angeles residents.

As reported by Anna Scott in the Downtown News, Villaraigosa, in his Mixed-Income Housing Policy, is contemplating major steps to require long-reluctant developers to include working people in the apartments and condos they hope to build when the housing and financing slump ends.

This would definitely mix the affluent with the less prosperous, which is counter to long-standing practice in a city long—although unofficially—segregated by class and race.

Scott reported that developers of rental projects could choose between reserving 12.5 percent of their units for very low income households earning less than $35,000 a year, 17.5 percent for households earning $35,000-$47,000 annually or 22.5 percent for those with incomes of $47,000-$60,000 per year. Condo developers would face similar requirements. But the plan draft offers developers a huge out: They could build the low income units in another place in the community, provide land for affordable housing or pay the city to buy land elsewhere and build the units.

Even this loophole isn’t enough for the builders, developers and other real estate interests who have clout at city hall. With the Central City Association taking a major role, developers will take their fight to Villaraigosa’s office, where the various parties will decide the outcome behind closed doors.

California liberals will watch this as they assess Villaraigosa as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010. Low and moderate income Californians are facing increasing difficulty in finding housing around the state. The issue hasn’t risen to a hot-button level at this time, but it is one that is high priority for many activists who are beginning to think about the governor’s race.

Villaraigosa’s liberal record—all important in a Democratic primary—has been spotty, particularly on the affordable housing issue, where the mayor, a big building booster, has boasted that the construction crane is Los Angeles’ municipal bird. That’s why his new housing policy will be important to his statewide political future.




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