LA's transportation agency gets into housing with new development policy

Red Line at Civic Center station.
Red Line at Civic Center station.
Todd Johnson/KPCC

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The Los Angeles County Transportation Authority has adopted a new policy to encourage affordable housing on its properties.

The agency, which runs buses and trains in the county, also owns real estate along transit lines. The Metro Board voted this week to adopt the new guidelines, with a goal of setting aside 35 percent of its total holdings for low-income residents.

The amendments to the so-called "Joint Development Program" would also encourage developers to build lower-priced units by allowing the agency to sell a portion of the property (up to 30 percent) at less than market value.

The L.A. area is in the midst of a housing crisis. A Harvard study recently named the city the least affordable rental market in the country.

"Every single public and private entity who can assist in tackling that problem creatively, responsibly, prudently is obliged to do so," said Metro Board Chair and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

However, some members of the Metro Board, like Lakewood Council Member Diane DuBois, expressed misgivings about the agency's involvement in the issue.

"We’re not a housing agency," she said. "Our money is for transportation. We have to be careful that we don’t slip over into an area that is not our responsibility."

Metro faces a looming budget deficit for operations of its many projects under construction and DuBois fears that giving up any revenue from properties would harm the agency in the future.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who also sits on the board, said developing affordable housing near transit would actually be good for the bottom line.

"A good policy will actually lead to more ridership, more tax revenue that funds us" he said, pointing to the success of developments around the Red Line in Hollywood that have built affordable housing and encouraged more residents to take transit.

About 80 percent of Metro's riders are low-income with an average salary of $25,000 a year.

Several community organizations showed up at the meeting to express support for the new policy.

"If poor folks who depend on public transit can’t live near it then what’s the point," said Carla de Paz with the East L.A. Community Corporation.

Currently about 31 percent of units on Metro's properties are devoted to affordable housing - most of it created by the city's Redevelopment Agency, which was dissolved by an order of Governor Jerry Brown in 2011.

The new policy formalizes a decision by the board in March to mandate affordable housing.