On Tuesday, October 10, the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee discussed and eventually approved a new ordinance creating a permanent “linkage fee” that would require builders – on many kinds of construction projects – to pay into a fund for affordable housing in the city.
During the two-hour discussion, the committee members debated various fine points of the ordinance, and approved amendments that would exempt hospital projects of any kind from the fees, would create a new oversight committee and reporting schedule for the fee system, and would establish a phase-in period after final approval. (During that 18-month period, no fees would be paid for the first six months, 1/3 of the proposed fees would be charged to new projects during the second six months after passage, and 2/3 of the fees would be charged for the third six-month period after the new ordinance’s final approval. The full fee schedule would then kick in for development applications coming in 18 months after the new ordinance is approved.) Committee members and representatives of the City Attorney’s office also clarified that fees would be locked in for projects as of the date their applications are accepted by the Planning Department…and not the date a project receives final approval to proceed.
In public comments at the meeting, before the final vote was taken, a pretty clear division was established between representatives of building and development interests, which unanimously opposed the fee (with several claiming that it violates various city and state laws, and may even function as an “illegal” hidden property tax)…and representatives of homeless and low-income community and housing advocate groups, who unanimously supported the fees. Many of the pro-fee speakers asked for even higher fees than those proposed, and even shorter phase-in periods. And several also noted that at least one recent poll shows 80% support among members of the public for such fees, that the fees have worked well to create a permanent revenue stream to support affordable housing in other cities, and that proposed cuts to federal housing programs make it even more important to establish our own local funding channels for affordable housing. Several also acknowledged, however, that the fees will not be a singular solution to the city’s housing crisis, but just one valuable piece of a larger, more complex puzzle.
Locally, our Greater Wilshire Neighborhood council voted to oppose housing linkage fees back in July, with members arguing at the time that, while the city does need to build more affordable housing, the proposed fees could have “unintended consequences of either stifling the development of new housing stock or of driving up prices on that new stock.”
Those concerns were echoed by the seven developer and building owner representatives who spoke at Tuesday’s PLUM meeting. They argued that higher fees would lead to fewer new homes being constructed, and even tighter supplies and higher rents…when exactly the opposite is needed to alleviate current housing shortages.
The 26 speakers who favored the fees, however, noted the urgency of the current housing shortages, and the urgency of funding specifically affordable housing as quickly as possible. Several spoke of the ways in which their own families are being affected by the crisis – with one high school student reporting that she works nights as a cleaning person to help her family afford their current small apartment, while others talked about how their own lives and families have been saved by access to affordable housing, and the need to make more of it available to other struggling residents. Meredith Graham, representing Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church and the Coalition for a Just L.A., summed up these arguments by saying, “The official city bird seems to be a crane,” but if the linkage fee ordinance does not pass, “the official city mobile home will be a shopping cart.”
The revised ordinance was approved by the committee by a vote of 4-1, with the lone opposing member, Mitch Englander, saying he might be willing to reconsider his position, depending on final wording of certain clarifications, when the matter comes next to the full city council for final approval.