OpEd: WeHo’s Un-Affordable Housing Part 2

“Home is where the heart is.” If you’re reading this, then your heart may be in West Hollywood. However, you may not be able to afford to live here. Compared to our neighboring cities housing prices in West Hollywood are among the most expensive in the region. Despite the fact that we are located 8 miles inland from the ocean in Santa Monica, our rents are almost as high as those near the beach.

The majority of West Hollywood residents live in rental apartment units. There are over 15,000 rent-controlled apartments in WeHo, all of which were built prior to 1979. After rent-control was enacted developers found there riches in condominiums and luxury apartment buildings.

West Hollywood’s housing policy requires the construction of affordable housing in 20% of all new developments. This 20% set-aside is valid for the life of the development. WeHo City and LA County-owned properties remain ‘affordable housing units for the life of the development, but non-profit units typically sunset after 30 years. In some cases, development agreements allow an affordable housing unit for up to 99 years. However, many of the early “affordable housing” units for low-income or aging residents built by non-profits will begin to sunset in the coming years.

Despite being a city for almost 40 years, West Hollywood’s housing stock has hardly changed. The number of residents living in West Hollywood is approximately the same as it was in 1984 when the city was incorporated, which is around 36,000-39,000 total residents. However, the demand for housing in West Hollywood continues to rise, while our supply is not keeping up.

Most of the changes and growth in our city have taken place on commercial corridors. Real Estate 101 teaches that property values increase when they are surrounded by active commercial corridors with community-serving businesses. . West Hollywood’s new developments in its commercial corridors have far surpassed its construction of new housing within our borders.

At the last City Council meeting, Anthony Vulin, owner of the Collective Realty and Business License Commissioner, challenged the council to think about developments differently. Vulin spoke about the missed opportunities of homeownership and wealth creation for those who rent. He said, “Our city is 80% renters. That means that 80% of our residents are building somebody else’s wealth and not their own. Micro units that are ‘for sale’ could be a big step in lowering the homeownership gap. The city should make it a priority to build micro units ‘for sale’ rather than ‘for rent.'”

What if our housing policy allowed for a pathway to homeownership for some affordable housing units? What if residents could turn small rental buildings into cooperatives with help from the city? What if a new type of housing emerged, “rent-to-own,” where a tenant could build equity over time? Instead of subsidizing affordable housing for low or middle-income residents, our thinking could evolve to support a tenant’s down payment, which would be paid back upon the sale of that unit. This would benefit everyone.

The City of West Hollywood is also contributing to our problems. It is the largest property owner in WeHo, owning large parcels of land from City Hall and most of the entire block across the street from Flores to Sweetzer, the large corner lot on the corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Blvd, Laurel House, the Holloway Motel, and multiple parking structures and empty lots throughout the city. Most of these properties owned by the City of West Hollywood remain in limbo for years. If the city were not competing with developers for this land, it could be developed into mixed-use or other creative ideas.

However, the competition with private developers has driven up prices for remaining parcels of land and the cost of the final development, exacerbating the affordability issue.

Other factors contributing to the housing problem in West Hollywood include limited land mass, government competition with the private sector, slow pace of development, restrictions on building size, rent control, aging housing stock, housing attrition, and the tremendous growth of the business community where many hope to live close to where they work. Unfortunately, the chemistry of these policies does not work well with each other to create enough affordable housing for low and medium-income residents, or housing that is affordable for those who hope to become property owners in West Hollywood.


We tried to get more information on the ‘sunset’ of units from the West Hollywood Housing Corporation but multiple calls to its President and CEO and Director of External Affairs went unanswered. A former elected official with knowledge of WHHC answered the question this way “I don’t know the exact answer about what happens with every West Hollywood Housing Corp. development but after 30 years the units belong to the development corporation. And its possible that they might turn them into market rate units as they vacate but its unlikely because its not the mission of the organization. However, the once proposed )TARA) Laurel house project development agreement did have an expiration clause in which the property and all of the rights to the units would have gone to the development corp.

The following are questions that were posed to the Rent Stabilization Division. Answers were provided by Joshua Schare, Director of Communications for the City of West Hollywood. These questions and answers do not apply to buildings operated by the WHHC.

What qualifies as a rent-stabilized unit?

Rental units in multifamily residential rental properties with a certificate of occupancy issued on or before July 1, 1979.

Inclusionary housing – how many units does the city have? How many are available?

The Housing Element provides an excellent summary of all the city’s affordable housing units (Table 29). The Housing Element can be found here: www.weho.org/housingelement.

Additionally, each year the City sends an annual update report to HCD. This year’s update went to Council on March 20, 2023.

Are the city inclusionary housing done by the same or separate lotto than WHCHC?

Separate.

How many rent-stabilized units are in the city?

Total Rent Stabilized Units: 15,334 (found on page 52 of HE).

What qualifies as a rent-stabilized unit? Used to think it was a building built prior to 1979—has that changed? For instance, the Domain, is that rent-stabilized?

Broadly speaking, rent stabilization applies to properties completed on or before July 1, 1979. The Domain, as “new construction,” is not rent-stabilized.

However, there are some nuanced instances that could trigger rent stabilization in new construction buildings. For example, if you demolish a rent-stabilized building and rebuild within 5 years, rent stabilization would apply to the new building (WHMC 17.52.010). Additionally, per SB330/SB8, if rent-stabilized units that are occupied by above-moderate income tenants are demolished, they must be replaced by deed-restricted affordable and/or rent-stabilized units in the new project.

How many affordable housing units does the city manage as part of the inclusionary housing program?

The city does not manage any properties. Rather, the Rent Stabilization Division, in partnership with HouseKeys Inc., oversees the leasing up of inclusionary units to ensure compliance with relevant laws, regulations, and covenants.

The inclusionary housing program is for people who qualify: very low income, low income, medium income. Is that correct? How many of each are in the city inventory not including WHHC?

WHCHC has its inventory of affordable units. Each inclusionary unit is either designated very low-, low-, or moderate-income.

Does the inclusionary program include a lotto? Or how are those openings selected?

The inclusionary program works off of a list that is opened depending on the size of the list. The last time the list was opened was in November 2019 and currently has approximately 4,728 people on it. The list is set randomly assigning a placement, which remains throughout the life of the list. Participants are contacted as the list is worked from lowest number to highest number as units become available. Once waitlist applicants apply, they are sorted by priorities identified by Council’s Resolution 08-3711.

Are there disclosures necessary if a person in an affordable unit is serving on a commission or board as an appointed or elected official?

No.

On the income qualification… a) so if somebody has a million dollars and they are 60 years old and retired do they qualify? Or b) somebody is 30 years old with a moderate income — are they able to stay in the same spot for the rest of their lives?

Assets and monthly income information are collected and reviewed when the waitlist applicant is invited to apply. Income and assets are not reviewed while on the waitlist.

How many units are currently slated to come on line in the affordable housing area over the next year, or 5 years, and how many applicants are there on the list at this point?

The Housing Element provides an excellent summary of the City’s commitment through 2029 towards our housing goals. Below is the summary of qualified objectives.

So the criteria for availability, is a) next on list, b) low income or age or disability, or c) Ellis?…

Normally, a unit is offered to the next income-qualified applicant on the list, although applicants may be drawn from those individuals displaced by a no-fault eviction, such as an Ellis Act eviction, if they are also income qualified.

In case you missed Part 1. https://wehoville.com/2023/04/04/oped-wehos-un-affordable-housing-initiative/

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Just me
Just me
1 month ago

Another problem are the rules that discourage new housing. We have space for one unit behind our building but when the landlord looked into it a number of years ago, he was told that he needed to provide one off-street parking spot for the unit. The irony is that half of our current parking lot is empty because half of the millennials prefer to take Lyft instead of owning a car. Our landlord also said he would have been open to adding a third floor which would add another four units but the laws prevent him from adding height to… Read more »

Just me
Just me
1 month ago

That’s strange that assets and income are not reviewed for someone who is already on the list and about to be next in line for housing. You’d think that it would be a priority to check to make sure everyone who is receiving low-income housing still qualifies as low-income.

James
James
1 month ago

There’s an elephant in the room with this article–housing is not affordable because there’s very limited new housing construction. Supply is flat while demand increases, so prices skyrocket. Weho needs to change zoning to increase supply. For example, every single family lot should be changed to allow six townhomes with no setbacks, and every two story apartment building should be changed to allow six stories. Weho can’t be a refuge for LGBT people if there are no homes available anymore for kids fleeing Alabama. We can’t let those who moved here when it was cheap pull the ladder up behind… Read more »

WeHoVaudevillian
WeHoVaudevillian
1 month ago
Reply to  James

Bug hive neo tenements. Great – let’s Manhattanize. See how popular weho is then, what the quality of life is like. See how many waifs and strays want to come live in a congested and polluted slum

Jim Nasium
Jim Nasium
1 month ago
Reply to  James

You may want to avoid commenting while on your 8th vodka gimlet at Trunks.

Unless of course it helps your satirical sense of humor.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
1 month ago
Reply to  James

You are mistaken. There is a housing shortage because virtually no new apartments have been built in the City since cityhood, due to rent control laws that discourage people from being landlords. Have you ever watched a rent control meeting? Seriously, they would have to be insane to invest millions of dollars here, where they have little control over the price they rent at, and the absurd and unrealistic protections the city forces landlords to provide. And on top of that, rent control discourages people from ever leaving their apartments, so they stay until they drop dead. And since landlords… Read more »

Mike
Mike
1 month ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

New apartments are not subject to rent stabilization in West Hollywood; it would not apply to any units built since cityhood.

And what about Proposition 13, aka rent control for homeowners?

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

Also the assertion that no new apartments have been built in West Hollywood since 1984 is simply false. You just can’t make up facts to make a point.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

Regardless, virtually no new air market apartments have been built here because landlords/developers have a sound fear their property will be taken away at any time as it was at cityhood. Also landlords of both fair market and rent control apartments don’t want to deal with the rent control biard’s treatment of landlords. If you have another theory, let us know why they don’t build new apartments here, rather only million dollar condos get built. Can’t wait for the explanation.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
1 month ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

For starters even in rent controlled buildings, upon vacancy the rents go up to FAIR MARKET VALUE! The thousands of units of new housing built throughout the City is FAIR MARKET HOUSING except those units designated as “affordable” as mandated under our General Plan and under State law. Because of the market, newly built housing tends to be expensive luxury housing. West Hollywood was created to protect people in their homes. Putting people before profit remains one of the City’s core values.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

We know vacancies, even in rent controlled buildings, go to fair market rent. That’s exactly the point, why no one wants to leave, when they are living off the fat of the landlord. It would be interesting to know how long the average rent controlled apartment stays rented, without a “vacancy”, especially compared to other cities that don’t have rent control. “Vacancy” is another way of saying “the tenant dropped dead, so the apartment is now vacant”. I’m gonna guess if the average stay in West Hollywood is 30, 40 or 50 years, in non rent control cities, I suspect… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by WehoQueen
Mike
Mike
1 month ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

Look at a zoning map. The places where West Hollywood has seen the most new development (Domain, Dylan, Huxley, Avalon) are the places that allow six-story density. That’s not a coincidence, and speaks to James’ original point.

Just me
Just me
1 month ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

What happened to properties when WeHo became its own city?

Just me
Just me
1 month ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

New developments aren’t subject to rent control. However the City of West Hollywood not allowing rent increases much longer than other cities (including LA) does affect the small landlord’s ability to pay for maintenance and upkeep particularly when the prices of everything from supplies to labor are surging. Last time I checked the link to the landlord feedback survey regarding the pandemic freeze was still broken. That was a few months ago but the thing has been broken for years. Maybe they just didn’t want feedback that small landlords were being crushed and needing to sell to corporations.

Misaligned
Misaligned
1 month ago
Reply to  James

Seems as though you are either advocating for or in search of habitations for sardines. Please decamp to the sea. And as for West Hollywood becoming a refuge for all LGBTQ people, that was not the intention. WeHo was to be open and tolerant of ALL, not a stricken segregated sanctuary for the angry and maladjusted.

Just me
Just me
1 month ago
Reply to  Misaligned

I hardly think a gay teen running away from a hateful household is maladjusted but go ahead and keep spreading your venom, it gives proper warning about your character.

WeHoVaudevillian
WeHoVaudevillian
1 month ago

The thing that makes West Hollywood attractive will be destroyed in building bug hive neo tenements.

carleton cronin
1 month ago

Some may remember that the singular driving force for cityhood were the abused renters and their allies, the Coalition for Economic Survival

Joshua88
Joshua88
1 month ago

Great work, Larry.

Thank you.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
1 month ago

Larry you have pointed up a very important issue: while West Hollywood has constructed thousands of units since 1984, our population does not seem to have increased. Even given inaccurate Census data, we have a lot of units that are not accounted for. We know that hundreds of units, maybe more, have been taken for Air BnB or the equivalent. The City’s lack of enforcement has deprived real people from having real homes in West Hollywood.

Manny
Manny
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

The advent in 2008 of the short term rental online platform that has allowed anyone to become an amateur hotelier is the single most destructive cause of any city’s loss of housing.

Now with ADUs being promoted so heavily by the city on every utility pole in West Hollywood and by the LA Times, get ready for more residentially zoned neighborhoods to transition into hotel districts.

All that is No Bueno.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
1 month ago
Reply to  Manny

ADUs are the latest fad from Sacramento. Frankly we have been able to create housing with a common sense approach to mixed use. Sacramento could foster the creation of a lot more housing is it mandated mix use but then the politicians would run afoul donors.

Josh Kurpies
Josh Kurpies
24 days ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

Steve, it hasn’t been the donors that opposed mixed use, it continues to be the growing faux housing advocate homeowners who demand that all development contain 100% affordable units, killing or nullifying any legislation.

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
1 month ago

Well done, Larry! This series has clearly required a lot of research and it is very well written.

Average Rents
Average Rents
1 month ago

West Hollywood–$3,261
Culver City–$3,199
Beverly Hills–$3,125
LA City–$2,781

(RentCafe.com)

Average Rents
Average Rents
1 month ago
Reply to  Average Rents

Further comparison, NYC with its high density, high rise apartment buildings and rent control, the average rent is $4,250.

Joshua88
Joshua88
1 month ago
Reply to  Average Rents

Not all buildings are under rent control.
My mother’s was not.

But STILL.
WeHo is notoriously expensive.

Mick Remington
Mick Remington
1 month ago

Rent controls propose using government regulation to solve the symptom—high prices—of a problem—a shortage of housing—which government regulation created in the first place.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
1 month ago

Just to illustrate what a bunch of hypocrites and phonies the officials in the City are (both past and present), there is a provision in the rules that when a developer is required to provide say 10 units of affordable housing in a new development, there is no requirement those units be in the same project, in the same building, or even in West Hollywood! They often build the required affordable units where it’s cheaper, like in the Valley. Miles and miles away from West Hollywood. So they aren’t really interested in finding housing for poor people here, they just… Read more »

Kilroyrogers
Kilroyrogers
1 month ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

There’s also in lieu fees: for a fraction of construction costs, they don’t have to build affordable units at all.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
1 month ago
Reply to  Kilroyrogers

Good point. The bottom line is, all their lies about caring about housing for those who can’t afford to live here, are utter nonsense. Sadly, most people are fools and they think the City Council is full of sincere honest people, while in fact, they are out for a money grab, just like everyone else–especially the poor. The only thing new that gets built here are new million dollar condos for millionaires. Oh sure, once in a blue moon there is an “affordable unit”, sometimes as we have seen, reserved for a well-connected Rent Control Commissioner living at The Domain.… Read more »

Joshua88
Joshua88
1 month ago
Reply to  Kilroyrogers

That is the part that sucks.

Mike
Mike
1 month ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

I have no idea if this Valley claim was ever accurate, but it’s certainly not today. Affordable units are required to be on-site (WHMC 19.22.030).
The exception is for projects of 10 or fewer units which may choose to pay an in-lieu fee, tied to the cost of one unit plus 5%. This money goes into the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Just me
Just me
1 month ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

Wow that’s appalling if true.

Last edited 1 month ago by Just me
worker
worker
1 month ago

If people really need to live in West Hollywood, just quit your jobs, and go live as derelicts on Santa Monica Blvd. like the rest of them.

There are still some open spots for more vagrants by City Hall.

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