LA County at risk of losing 14,000 affordable rentals

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Los Angeles County officials are trying to stem the potential loss of some 14,000 affordable rentals over the next five years. 

Property owners priced these units at below-market rates for typically 30 to 40 years as a condition of getting financing or permission to build. But with these agreements expiring, some are deciding to take advantage of the county's hot housing market.

The California Housing Partnership Corp. projects that about 14,000 units spread across 232 buildings are at "high" or "very high" risk of being converted to market rates. 

"Los Angeles County alone has nearly half of the affordable homes that are currently at risk of conversion around the state," said Matt Schwartz, president of the housing nonprofit. "I would say that L.A. has more at stake than any other county."

Schwartz said options for county government include helping housing nonprofits buy at “at-risk” buildings to operate. Government agencies could also loosen restrictions on landlords to raise the rent, Schwartz said.

At a meeting Thursday, county officials will begin early discussions on how to keep the units in the "affordable" column. One of the recommendations they'll take up would give gentrifying neighborhoods priority in preserving units.

"The theory is that they might be more at risk in gentrifying neighborhoods, given the higher rents that might be expected with gentrification," said Doug Baron, manager of economic development and affordable housing in the Los Angeles County CEO's office.

Baron said more than $30 million of the county budget for 2016-2017 will be spent on affordable housing, although it's not yet clear how much will go to new construction versus preservation.  
 

Schwartz is among those making the case that preserving existing affordable units is more cost-efficient.

"The cost to acquire a building that's in decent shape, and invest a little money in bringing it up to code and improving energy-efficiency, is half to two-thirds the cost of getting a new piece of land and building from scratch," Schwartz said.

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