Anti-NIMBYs see hope in West LA project

Proposition HHH passed a year ago, providing $1.2 billion in affordable housing funds over a decade. But an outstanding question has been if neighborhoods would accept construction projects.
Proposition HHH passed a year ago, providing $1.2 billion in affordable housing funds over a decade. But an outstanding question has been if neighborhoods would accept construction projects.
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The city of L.A.'s struggle to find willing neighborhoods for homeless housing developments hope they have something of a blueprint for success in a recently approved project in West L.A. 

The development, 70 units in total with half devoted to permanent supportive housing for young adults and families, is slotted on the site of a formal animal shelter in the Sawtelle area. The area's neighborhood council recently approved the project after months of outreach by Councilman Mike Bonin's office and the developer, Thomas Safran & Associates.

The news comes on the anniversary of the passage of Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure passed by city voters to fund low-income housing.

And advocates are hoping the development's success so far portends success for hitting the measure's goal of constructing 10,000 units in the next decade. Neighborhood opposition to development is one of the major potential hurdles moving towards that goal. 

"What we have to look at is staying on pace," said Elise Buik, CEO of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which has been coordinating the region's homelessness efforts for years.  "To get to 10,000, we need to make sure projects are coming online and getting approved and then we have to pay attention to the geography and where those projects are getting sited."

Location is another reason the affordable housing community is excited about the West L.A. project. Traditionally, developers have had a tough time siting projects in more affluent areas of the city. 

A KPCC analysis found nearly two-thirds of affordable housing developments built in Los Angeles County over the past decade ended up in the poorest neighborhoods. 

"We have homeless individuals living all across the city, so we want to make sure each neighborhood is doing its fair share," Buik said. Solving homelessness, she said, doesn't mean simply getting homeless people out of the neighborhood.

So far, the city has approved funding through Proposition HHH for 412 new housing units. The average, before HHH passed, according to the United Way, had been about 300 per year. 

The United Way is gearing up to embark on a county-wide marketing campaign to combat so-called NIMBY-ism (Not-In-My-Back-Yard) and pave the way for affordable housing developments.

"Once people understand what the solution is and what it's not, they really do come onboard," she said.

In the case of the West L.A. proposal, Tyler Monroe, vice president of development for Thomas Safran & Associates, said the company started community outreach last spring. They held 10 community meetings, chartered busses so interested neighbors could tour similar developments in nearby neighborhoods and meet with residents, and underwent five special meetings of the local neighborhood council.

"We started by listening and understanding what the community was scared of and how we could address that with programming and design," Monroe said.

Beyond NIMBY-ism, another threat to Proposition HHH's 10,000-unit ambitions is the threat of changes on the federal level that could take out other pieces of funding affordable housing developers depend upon.

Federal budget proposals currently include major cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, including, potentially, programs that fund affordable housing construction and rental subsidies for tenants.

The current House Republican tax reform package could also zap private investment in affordable housing, by eliminating tax-exempt bonds that currently unlock some $2 billion in affordable housing construction each year in California. 

The West L.A. proposal, along with other projects potentially set for funding through Proposition HHH would all have to make up that money some other way.

"That's a big question," Monroe said. "Right now we're taking a wait and see approach. We believe that where there's a will there's a way."