OpEd: WeHo’s Un-Affordable Housing Initiative

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Let’s face it: rents are out of control, there isn’t enough affordable housing, and West Hollywood has some of the most expensive housing in the region.

Santa Monica and West Hollywood were among the first cities in Southern California to adopt rent control ordinances. Rent control has many positive features, including allowing seniors and those on fixed incomes the opportunity to age in place. But rent control also discourages people from moving out of these below-market rentals.

Some very successful people occupy these limited rent-controlled units. Our County Supervisor, our Mayor, and two City Councilmembers live in rent-controlled apartments. The landlord gets called greedy, but over time, the tenants enjoy below-market rentals and save money to invest or even buy a property of their own. How many of you have a friend in Palm Springs who won’t give up their rent-controlled unit?

The landlord is responsible for unexpected costs, rising property taxes, water rates, seismic retrofits, and while their income is capped, their expenses are not. Those pre-1979 buildings require more maintenance than newer buildings. The cause and effect is that eventually, the property owner has limited upside and sells the building. Over time, a building under rent control that is not subsidized by market-rate units cannot survive profitably. Eventually, those buildings will be torn down and replaced.

Let’s clear up a common phrase that is often misunderstood: “Affordable Housing” and “Housing that is Affordable”. These are two separate things. Affordable Housing is housing assistance for low-income individuals. The largest builder of affordable housing units in WeHo is the West Hollywood Housing Corporation (WHHC). WHHC is a collaborative partner of the City of West Hollywood, but it is a separate non-profit enterprise.

I reached out to the West Hollywood Housing Corp with some questions. Three calls to Jesse Slansky, President of the West Hollywood Housing Corp, went unanswered. Two calls to Sam Borelli, in charge of external affairs, went unanswered. I finally had to knock on the door of the offices to get some information.

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My question was: Has anybody outgrown their affordable housing unit? The answer from Barbara, who answered the front door that day, was “we don’t have those kinds of tenants” and that they had 9,000 applications for 45 openings at one of their buildings. I then reached out to some of the WHHC tenants and heard a host of complaints. My disappointment at hearing those complaints and receiving no return calls motivated me to follow up with my personal attorney. Please remove the West Hollywood Housing Corporation as a beneficiary in my will. Two years prior, I had donated carts to one of their resident buildings in need. Two weeks later, still no call.

The Inclusionary Housing program, managed by City Hall’s Rent Stabilization Department, includes the 20% of affordable housing carved into new developments. Lucky tenants score equal amenities inside multimillion-dollar buildings, such as 8899 Beverly or the Domain. While I’m sure that a majority of these units are given to deserving tenants, this is where the favors happen.

One long serving rent stabilization commissioner scored a unit at the Domain without any public disclosure while serving on the commission. It was like the fox watching the hen house and walking off with the prized egg.

Another friend who won the lotto to get his unit got quite successful writing a screenplay. The money went into a LLC controlled by his brother.

A healthy 30 something city council candidate was able to score an affordable unit with a call to city hall during covid while many others were forced out of the city.

Do you remember when I asked Barbara from the West Hollywood Housing Corporation whether any tenants ever make too much money to remain in their units? Her response was that they don’t have those kinds of tenants. This week, I posed the same question to a staff member at City Hall. I asked if they were aware of anyone who had grown out of their affordable unit because they made more money or could no longer qualify under the income verification requirements. The staff member replied, “Larry, I had the same question.”

You see, if a person makes more money and has to be moved out of their affordable unit, we would expect to see some justification – perhaps there was a unique situation that year at work, or they are dealing with an out of the ordinary bonus at work. We have never heard of an appeal on an eviction due income verification enforcement.

“Housing that is affordable” is an aspiration for all communities, but in West Hollywood, a small city of just 1.9 square miles, most people are priced out. While nationwide homeownership is approaching 65%, in West Hollywood, just over 20% of our housing is owned by residents.

The headwinds facing lower pricing, or affordable housing, for many of us are policies that a) restrict development, b) encourage people to stay in their same units, and c) people taking advantage of the program and d) slow turnover of units.

The simple laws of supply and demand are at work here. Over the years, restrictions on development have not allowed for an increase in the supply of housing. The tallest buildings in West Hollywood are hotels or office buildings. Mandating 20% of affordable housing in each new development needs to be subsidized by the other units in the complex to offset costs, thereby increasing the overall costs for everybody else. Affordable housing for low-income residents is not reaching the neediest. If people go into a subsidized housing situation and don’t ever leave it sounds more like an institutional rather than a helping hand.

Each of the goals of rent control, affordable housing, and inclusionary housing are noble in their intentions, but when employed together with restrictions on zoning and development, it has led to the situation we find ourselves in today.. We need to rethink the criteria for those who get affordable housing units, prioritizing those with disabilities and seniors in need. We need to redesign our approach to building housing that is affordable. While the City Council votes to spend $100,000 to study how to pay reparations or a drowned proposal three times that for our own police force, perhaps we should look to study the effects of all these policies on our micro-market. Those policies have led us to the housing crisis we face today.

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About Larry Block
Larry is a West Hollywood resident and business owner of the BlockParty and YMLA stores. He has served the City of West Hollywood as the Chairman of Disability Advisory Board and the Public Facilities Commission. He is also a founding partner and contributor to Boystown Media.

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David Abrams
David Abrams
10 months ago

Rent control should be need based, not whoever was lucky enough to move into a rent-controlled building 20 years ago.

Faye
Faye
10 months ago

Your article is anecdotal. You mention a handful of folks that might be living in rent controlled apartments that might earn a salary that could afford them something more expensive. Where are the hard facts how many rent controlled units are there, what is the rent is on those units, how many people who can afford more live in them… not just a few people who happened to be in positions that can get them in those apartments. Facts are that cities like Santa Monica, LA and San Francisco can not impose rent control on any rental units after the… Read more »

Ejw
Ejw
10 months ago
Reply to  Faye

You are right to want actual facts and not anecdotes. The problem is that if there’s no process in place to measure this, the amount of low-income housing fraud can go unchecked. It’s the city’s responsibility to low-income residents to quantify the eligibility of existing tenants and come up with rules to deicide if a tenant no longer qualifies.

Annie Jump
Annie Jump
9 months ago
Reply to  Faye

Oh, Larry doesn’t provide facts. He runs WeHoVille as his own propaganda machine so he can intimidate lawmakers into doing what he wants. There’s no fact-checking or any sort of actual journalism. This is more of a blog ppl take for news.

Golden Handcuffs
Golden Handcuffs
10 months ago

Let’s be honest, there’s never a time when people say rents are reasonable. Tenants will always say that rents are too high, but the truth is people that are paying market rate chose an apartment within their budget and think that they are getting good value for what they’re paying. West Hollywood’s draconian rent control laws are very flawed. Rent control is not needs based. Let me say that again: West Hollywood’s rent control laws are NOT needs based. There are countless tenants that make a good salary and choose to stay bound by their golden handcuffs and instead use… Read more »

Worth Compairing
Worth Compairing
10 months ago

Just today I have been reviewing housing options in the City of Pasadena which offers affordable housing for lower and moderate income to purchase and to rent.
https://www.pasahop.com/

https://rehrealestate.com/50-new-affordable-housing-units-coming-to-pasadena-as-demand-continues-to-outpace-supply/

Likewise investigated their City Manager & Mayor/ Council Member City Government as well as their current City Council Agenda. Looks like these folks get down to business without the abject posturing and silliness found here in West Hollywood.

Mick Remington
Mick Remington
10 months ago

things cost……what they cost. always have and always will.

Worth Compairing
Worth Compairing
10 months ago
Reply to  Mick Remington

And your point is?

West
West
10 months ago

Between the ridiculous wait list for affordable units, ostentatious projects and incessant star-studded galas… I can’t shake the feeling that something is *off* at WHHC…

Joshua88
Joshua88
10 months ago

I think Larry made some excellent points and asked good questions.

He should possibly do an expose.

Re this: One long serving rent stabilization commissioner scored a unit at the Domain…

The behavior is unethical, and both the employee and the developer/owner should be brought up on ethics violations. Since the city knows who is registered on a property, this should have been publicly outed the first year it was discovered.
Don’t we have laws against quid pro quo?

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
10 months ago
Reply to  Joshua88

We have two current Councilmembers who were around at the time Richard Maggio scored that deluxe unit at The Domain, with their free coffee. Perhaps people could ask John Heilman and Lauren Meister at Council meetings directly how the smiling tuxedo wearer/BFF of Sepi Shyne, got the public housing there.

Joshua88
Joshua88
10 months ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

Who is the smiling tuxedo-wearing BFF of Mayor Shyne? Mr Maggio?
Perhaps…a good idea.

HEADS UP!
HEADS UP!
10 months ago

TO ALL THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING CHEERLEADERS!!!

Los Angeles County lost 90,704 people fro. July 2021 to July 2022, one of several big California counties to see a population drop.

Gone are 180,394 people.

Wacky Weho
Wacky Weho
10 months ago
Reply to  HEADS UP!

Theres a lot of affordable housing in LA County. Oh, you don’t want to live in Watts?

Heads Up
Heads Up
10 months ago
Reply to  Wacky Weho

There is affordable housing in Pasadena and an authentic effort by the city government to support it including g Affordable Home Ownership.

Andrea D
Andrea D
10 months ago
Reply to  HEADS UP!

You’re right. and right now, there are 25,000 listed vacancies in LA County. Most unaffordable. I look weekly at rentals and vacancies, and this has been consistent for more than a year. Apartments.com is a good place to look. What always shocks me is how incredibly expensive one bedroom really is. Many from $2500 up to $6000 a month. Like the prison WeHo built on La Cienega and Sunset. If one needs to earn three times the rent to qualify, which it is, then damn, someone must be making money. https://www.apartments.com/los-angeles-ca/?bb=kgxr2p48pN7hwih-hB

Lack if Initiative & Inspiration
Lack if Initiative & Inspiration
10 months ago

It is very distressing that Mayor Shyne and City Councilmember Byers and Erickson have not taken the initiative to become informed about this and demonstrate positive action. Their lack of aspiration actually undermines City policy. Likewise Supervisor Horvath, possibly because it was not a subject that would gain her photo ops.

Mick Remington
Mick Remington
10 months ago

Well Put. There is a strong link between limiting the ability of property-owners and developers to raise rents to what the market will bear, and the amount of investment that will flow into housing. A reduction in investment in housing has two primary impacts. First, existing units will suffer from reduced maintenance as property owners are unable to realize a return on investment by increasing rent. Secondly, new housing production will decline for the same reason – both the developers of, and investors in, new-construction housing will be less likely to build or trade properties that are subject to rent… Read more »

C.R.
C.R.
10 months ago
Reply to  Mick Remington

Then the government needs to pick up the slack and put money into more affordable housing developments. Lump it in with infrastructure spending. This is what happens when you have to rely on the free market and housing developers’ altruism, you get way too many people left behind, out in the cold because developers/investors aren’t generating enough profit while already being wealthy.

Mick Remington
Mick Remington
10 months ago
Reply to  C.R.

need to work a little harder. if one can’t makes ends work in the US…..they won’t do it anywhere.

people come here with nothing and make it work.

C.R.
C.R.
10 months ago
Reply to  Mick Remington

Yeah and you haven’t seen how they’re living when they come here with nothing. Crowded into units designed for one person. You probably complain about these places looking like the third world too when they have to do that. Just great. Take the pull up the bootstraps schpiel somewhere else.There’s no sympathy to be had for wealthy developers.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
10 months ago

Not sure why there is any subsidized housing anywhere. How about live where you can afford to live. There is no god given right to live where the frick anyone wants. Why randomly pick housing as the thing to subsidize? How about subsidizing my luxury cruise. It’s the biggest scam in history, the city founders figured out there will always be more poor renters who can out vote the landlords. These renters think landlords are running charities when they are in business to rightfully make a profit. They risk money and invest, they should get a reward over someone sitting… Read more »

C.R.
C.R.
10 months ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

So everyone who works the low paying jobs in LA County that keep the county’s economy going are supposed to live in Bakersfield or Twenty Nine Palms? Yeah I’m sure that’s the answer.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
10 months ago
Reply to  C.R.

Mostly right. People need to live where they can afford to live. If employers in L.A. County can’t find workers at the low prices they want to pay, they will keep raising the hourly wage until they find workers. It’s basic supply and demand economics that freeloaders have no concept or understanding of. You might want to do a google search for “supply and demand”. Hope that helped you.

Andrea D
Andrea D
10 months ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

I wonder where our bartenders, servers, and retail assistants live. Where do valet car parkers live? One must consider where our essential workers can live and work here in WeHo. Or should they live 2 hours away from where they work? Work an 8-hour shift and travel by metro 4 hours a day? Do they not deserve quality of life, or should they make sure those living here in WeHo have the quality of life dining out, going to the mall, and working at the AMC but not have a life? It’s no wonder people don’t put their all in… Read more »

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrea D

Our society rewards successful people with lots of money. Personally, I would prefer to earn a dollar less per hour working in the Valley, and paying half of Weho’s rent, than make that extra dollar per hour in Weho, paying $3,000 a month in rent here. Live where you can afford. If someone made bad life choices and doesn’t earn enough to live adjacent to the most expensive zip code in the whole country, I shouldn’t have to subsidize their bad life choices. There are a fixed number of homes in Weho. Should the successful professionals be the ones giving… Read more »

C.R.
C.R.
10 months ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

All of LA County is becoming unaffordable, not just West Hollywood, that’s the point here. And you have the gall to ask what planet others are living on? You are only demonstrating that you have no clue how the economy of Los Angeles actually works. It’s propped up by low and middle income individuals working regular jobs, and they need housing that’s relatively close to where they work. Common sense stuff here. Right now there’s more blue collar open positions than workers available, so this supply and demand crap sure isn’t the solution as proven right now!

Mick Remington
Mick Remington
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrea D

do what you have to do. same for everyone. complaints are wasted energy.

C.R.
C.R.
10 months ago
Reply to  Mick Remington

Yeah, and that includes more robbing others for money and committing various forms of fraud. That’s inevitable when wages aren’t enough and the cost of living is too high. All good though, right?

Joshua88
Joshua88
10 months ago

My landlord has not painted, replaced carpet and other flooring,blinds, or done any of the required repairs, fixes, or replacements since the 4 (I think) and 7-year mandated time periods. I stopped writing him years ago. Only emergencies are addressed. So, I have little sympathy.
And I realize the follow-up is on me, especially if you no longer have to file in person at City Hall. Do you?

Lack of Initiative & Inspiration
Lack of Initiative & Inspiration
10 months ago
Reply to  Joshua88

When tenants follow up for issues other than dire emergencies the landlord simply considers you a bothersome tenant and the relationship worsens. How about a seminar or two on how to efficiently manage rent stabilized buildings. All these owners seem to know about is “two guys and a bucket of tar.” Especially awful when substantial leaks, deluges and waterfalls have persisted. The way the code is written indicated the Code Compliance officer actually needs to be present to see the leak in action and roof failing. Fresh evidence does not suffice. This needs to be coordinated with the city and… Read more »

Joshua88
Joshua88
10 months ago

I had that same issue when I lived in Hollywood and the garage light was out for many months. It was dark back there and dangerous to walk because of (no lights) the uneven area.

Some owners prefer to be assho**s.

I think serious violators should have their rights to rent property be removed. There is little accountability other than taking a landlord to court.

Scott Sigman
Scott Sigman
10 months ago

Wait Landlords pay for things? I don’t even have mailbox as well as neighbors…hey groups of people that bought all these places could care less…fix something never. second hand appliances that where suppose to be new. poor landlords

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
10 months ago

Great investigative journalism and very well-written! This abuse has to stop! I lived in a W. Hollywood building where a lady had lived for years in an affordable unit who worked as a nanny and ran the house for a very wealthy family who had also provided her with a retirement plan. She openly boasted of how well she was paid but that it was mostly in cash so she wouldn’t lose her apartment. She drove a much nicer car than I and she flew to Russia for a month every year in first class because a flight that long… Read more »

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