POINT: Initiative has the ability to provide affordable housing

One doesn’t have to walk very far along the streets of Los Angeles — or even those surrounding our own University Park Campus — to recognize that affordable housing and homelessness are two of Los Angeles’ most serious crises. And come Nov. 8, voters will finally have the chance to move both issues to the forefront of the city’s agenda by voting for the “Build Better LA” initiative.

Of the proposals on the ballot, the “Build Better LA” initiative is the only one that truly seeks to address Los Angeles’ housing crisis by focusing on Los Angeles’ poorest — and increasingly homeless — residents. Presently, the city bears a housing deficit of approximately 1,000,000 units, an issue which has led to a rising approximate homeless population of at least 44,000 Angelenos — many of whom are resigned to living on the streets or in vehicles. The high cost of housing is cited as the primary cause behind this rise in homelessness, marked by a 12 percent increase over the last two years alone.

It is exactly this housing and homelessness crisis that “Build Better LA” has the potential to ameliorate. Under the proposal, which has been backed by a coalition of labor unions and housing advocates, real estate projects that include residential units would be required to allocate a certain percentage to low-income housing, with different classifications depending on the median income of the area. Specifically, developers would have the choice to allocate 5 percent and 6 percent of their residential units to “extremely low-income” and “very low-income” tenants, respectively, or allocate 5 percent of units to “extremely low-income” tenants and 15 percent to “low-income” tenants.

Such an initiative wouldn’t bar housing expansion, as measures like the “Neighborhood Integrity” initiative have proposed, calling for a moratorium on construction altogether. Rather, the Build Better LA would ensure that Los Angeles’ expansion continues to grow — both responsibly and equitably. By mandating that certain residential projects include affordable housing for low-income tenants, the proposal has the potential to meet and exceed Los Angeles’ current goal of producing 500 affordable housing units per year.

But just as the ballot measure seeks to address the affordable housing deficit in Los Angeles, it doesn’t ignore the important role that affordable wages play in ensuring that lower-income residents can afford rising rent costs. In addition to mandating that developers allocate units for affordable housing, it also requires that a certain percentage of the construction jobs go to Angelenos — thereby ensuring that upcoming developments aren’t just being built for local residents but by them.

Los Angeles wouldn’t be the only city to put in place similar measures aimed at keeping housing affordable. Neighboring areas such as Santa Monica and Pasadena have both implemented their own inclusionary requirements mandating residential developers to offer affordable housing. In Santa Monica, 30 percent of all new housing developments must be affordable to households making 80 percent of the area’s median income or less.

Los Angeles’ housing crisis certainly won’t be solved overnight, and 500 units a year are a far cry from the type of development the city needs to address its housing demands. But the Build Better LA initiative is a bold step in the right direction, and the only one that promises to support continued housing development in a way that benefits all Angelenos.

Yasmeen Serhan is a senior majoring in international relations. “Point/Counterpoint” runs  Tuesdays.