Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s affordable housing plan--a centerpiece of his administration—has been dealt near fatal blows by a court decision, the recession—and by his own planning director.
This is bad news for the mayor, who has just hired a new jobs czar. Creating construction jobs, including building apartment houses with affordable housing for working people, is crucial to Los Angeles’ recovery. And without such units, Los Angeles will continue to become a city of rich and poor, with little room for the working class or even the less affluent members of the middle class.
The court decision was handed down by a state appellate court. It wiped out a planned city requirement that Los Angeles developer Geoffrey Palmer set aside a portion of his new apartments for housing units affordable by working class tenants.
Such a requirement, to extend through the entire city, was a major part of Villaraigosa’s housing proposal. The Palmer decision nullifies the plan. Affordable housing advocates tell me that more than 28,000 affordable units could have been built over a decade if Los Angeles had forced developers to set aside 15 percent of the units in a new building for affordable housing.
Another blow serious blow to the mayor’s plan was delivered by the recession. With money scarce, hardly anybody is building apartments, either for the poor, the middle class or the rich.
Finally, Villaraigosa got a real stab in the back this week from his planning director, S. Gail Goldberg. She reported to a City Council committee on how the Planning Department would deal with the Palmer decision. Her answer: It can’t. She said, “Economic conditions over the past several years have caused the Mayor and City Council to take unprecedented actions to dramatically reduce the city's payroll. The Department of City Planning has been particularly hard hit,” Goldberg wrote. In other words, she’s too busy to work on a centerpiece of Villaraigosa’s program.
This is a classic bureaucratic blockade. “Gail’s memo is disingenuous and is a formula for inaction,” said Professor Peter Dreier of Occidental College, a housing expert who arranged for the construction of many affordable apartment units while he was a Boston city official.
It will be tough to overcome the Palmer decision, requiring action by the builder-developer dominated state legislature and the City Council. But Villaraigosa’s planning director doesn’t even want to try. Whose side is she on, developers or working class tenants?
Villaraigosa should answer the same question. If he is serious about affordable housing, he ought to tell Goldberg to get with his program instead of obstructing it.