NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--The failure of Measure S, which would have put a two-year moratorium on development projects in Los Angeles, is a victory in the fight for affordable housing for UCLA students. But there’s still a long way to go.
It’s no secret Westwood has one of the highest rents in Los Angeles with an average of $4,200 per month for a two-bedroom apartment – well above the average city rent of $2,650 per month. Because UCLA does not guarantee housing for fourth-year students, most UCLA students live off campus at some point during their college career. Although living off campus is cheaper than living on the Hill, off-campus housing prices are still unaffordable for most students, especially when rents are increasing.
But the trend of rising rent doesn’t have to continue if the Westwood Neighborhood Council gets involved. WWNC, which makes recommendations to the Los Angeles City Council about development projects in Westwood, has often opposed high-density housing, advising the council against approving development plans that would increase the amount of people who could live in Westwood. However, such high-density housing could lower rent prices in Westwood by increasing the availability of housing options and improve business in the Village.
Considering how expensive it is to live in Westwood and the number of students seeking affordable housing here, WWNC must take the cue from last week’s election that residents want to shift toward high-density development and help approve more high-density housing projects. They can do so by urging City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents the neighborhood in the city council, to approve more affordable housing projects in Westwood. Doing so would not only give cash-strapped students much-needed relief from high rents but could also help businesses in the Village thrive by bringing in more people to patronize them.
The council’s opposition to high-density projects is not new. The Land Use and Planning Committee often uses the excuse that these projects have higher bedroom counts than apartments and therefore will not fit the local aesthetic, but this an arbitrary distinction. They often also cite overcrowding of the community and lower home values as reasons to disapprove of these projects.
Most recently, they advised the city council against granting a developer a Land Conditional Use Permit to build a fraternity house at 611 S. Gayley Ave., considering it a “boarding house” since it had too many rooms. But this “boarding house” could have housed many Bruins.
And it’s not just inconvenient – the lack of affordable housing in Westwood has undermined students’ well-being. Students wholive off campus struggle to secure reasonably priced housing. Additionally, the high cost of living off campus has led to problems such as greater food insecurity, since students have less money to spend on nutritious food and do not have the security of a meal plan.
Expensive housing in Westwood has also hurt the broader Westwood community. Rising housing prices push low- and middle-income people out of the neighborhood since they cannot afford rent. Having fewer people in the village will further stagnate Westwood’s economy – one that should be vibrant but instead is sluggish. If Westwood becomes more of a destination to visit than a place to live, there will be fewer people walking around the village, and thus, less foot traffic for the businesses in Westwood.
In response to the damaging effects of unaffordable housing in the village, the WWNC needs to urge Koretz to fight for more affordable housing projects in Westwood.
He’ll listen. In fact, he often takes the neighborhood council’s advice on development projects, said Lisa Chapman, president of the WWNC. For example, in 2011 the neighborhood council convinced Koretz to not let the city auction off parking garages in Westwood to private bidders since Westwood residents wanted to maintain free parking in the Village. The WWNC should take similar action and represent its constituents who voted against Measure S by pressuring Koretz to approve high-density housing.
Of course, some WWNC members and homeowners in Westwood think higher-density housing will make the Village too crowded and undesirable. However, that belief is out of tune with what city residents think. The fact that Measure S failed indicates that most people who voted in Los Angeles think that fighting development projects is the wrong solution to housing problems.
Certainly,high-density housing will make Westwood more crowded, but current development with many low-level apartments and single-family homes shows that Westwood is not near capacity –meaning it could fit a lot more people with efficient development.
The choice is clear: Either Westwood can collect dust as an aging LA neighborhood or it can revitalize itself by opening its doors to more affordable housing. LA voters made their choice. It’s time for WWNC to follow suit.
(Emily Merz’ perspectives appear regularly in the Daily Bruin … where this viewpoint was first posted.)