Explaining Southern California's economy

Business Summit: Linking jobs, homes and transit is key to LA's future

Metro Rail

Todd Johnson/KPCC

The Los Angeles Business Council has just released a new report proposing solutions to the region's transit, jobs and affordable housing challenges.

A home, a job, and an easy ride between the two.  Los Angeles County has struggled to provide those essentials - with housing costs rising so high in the areas where jobs are located that many workers have no choice but to live far away and suffer a long commute.  

The Los Angeles Business Council convened a summit at UCLA  and released a comprehensive report on Friday with the aim of addressing those challenges. The report suggests that the expanding transit corridors in the county may offer the best hope to develop new housing for workers. It even creates a "Livable Community Opportunity Index"  highlighting areas near transit stations with the best potential to develop housing  that middle-income earners could afford.

The index classifies transit station areas as "hot, warm, or cool" markets for developing livable communities.  The Pico station on the Metro Blue Line and the Long Beach Transit Mall top the index, but the report also points to the Van Nuys Orange Line Station and land near the Florence/La Brea station on the future Crenshaw Line as prime opportunities for development. 

LA County Station Areas with Livable Community Opportunity Index Rating

The utopian concept of "co-location" - placing jobs near housing  - has been elusive in Los Angeles, says the study's author,  Dr. Paul Habibi, Professor of Real Estate at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and Ziman Center for Real Estate.  Land is so costly throughout LA, says Habibi, that he sees more hope in linking "housing centers" and "job centers" through mass transit, rather than trying to keep them close together. 

"My solution is really looking at the supply side of the equation and trying to maximize the developable land area where developers can now place new workforce and affordable housing units in proximity to transit centers that people can utilize to get to work," Habibi says. 

The mile or so radius around the transit center needs to be a pedestrian, bicycle, and car-sharing zone - "a mobility hub" - where as Habibi puts it, "a person can get out of bed, take their bike to the light rail line, they can change clothes, grab a snack or a drink and they can be on their way."

City planners define 'workforce housing' as housing affordable to families earning between 50 and 120 percent of the Area Median Income.  In Los Angeles County, that range is currently $41,00 a year to $99,000 a year for a family of four.   Habibi says in Los Angeles County, developers struggle to build housing for these families  in convenient areas because the land is costly and there are very few incentive programs.   The report recommends taking 20 percent of the money that came out of the dissolved Community Redevelopment Agencies and establishing affordable housing trust funds that can be used for workforce housing. 

"The issue here is economic competitiveness for our county," Habibi says. "Ultimately we're seeing a lot of corporations and businesses relocate out of our city, county, and state for places that are more employer friendly, places where they can afford to pay their workers less to live." 

The summit included panels with business and civic leaders, including keynote addresses from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Inglewood Mayor James Butts.  On the closing panel on "Investing in jobs for the future," Bud Ovrom, the executive director of the Los Angeles Convention Center emphasized the need for transportation systems. 

"You're not going to build enough buildings to create 20,000 jobs in South LA, but South LA is surrounded by great jobs," Ovrom says. "Yes, it's important to talk about building new factories, but if you want immediate relief on getting people jobs right away, I think transportation is key to us." 

LABC - Livable Communities Report

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