Part 1
Part 2

Striking a Balance

The Los Angeles County Experience: Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing in America's Largest County

By Julián Castro

Senior Fellow, the Legal Defense Fund’s Thurgood Marshall Institute

How are local jurisdictions striking a balance between boosting access to housing in “high opportunity neighborhoods” while also enhancing quality of life and preserving the cultural character of longstanding neighborhoods?

One of the most pressing challenges for policymakers to address is how, on one hand, to expand affordable housing opportunity in “high opportunity neighborhoods” for people of color and low-income residents who wish to move to such neighborhoods. And on the other, how to boost quality of life and preserve the cultural character of often-neglected, underserved neighborhoods that are primarily Black or Brown.  

Local communities have tried myriad policy approaches to address the first challenge. Some of these include using enhanced federal housing vouchers or providing incentives in the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit selection process conducted by state housing finance agencies. They also include local measures like inclusionary zoning and establishing municipal land use regulations that encourage or require the construction of affordable housing units in neighborhoods traditionally resistant to making housing affordable to low-income residents.  

The second challenge has arguably been more difficult to meet. During my time as mayor of San Antonio and Secretary of HUD, I visited more than 100 cities throughout the nation. I would not have graded a single community with an “A” for their efforts to manage gentrification and the displacement that often comes with it

So, I was curious about how Los Angeles County dealt with both issues.  

A Two-Pronged Strategy

During our conversation, Chung emphasizes that, during the county’s planning process, it was critical to reconcile “address[ing] the needs of economically-disadvantaged communities while at the same time redirecting resources to not over-concentrate affordable housing in certain areas.” To strike this balance, she, along with her team, focused on advancing immediate remedies to address housing needs while at the same time laying foundations to reverse historically discriminatory land use policies and practices.  

“Our overall strategy was [to] identify historically racially and ethnically concentrated communities of poverty and come up with programs for how we’re going to improve quality of life, [and] respond to housing pressures that are experienced in these communities, particularly if they were faced with gentrification,” she says. “But, at the same time, [we introduced] strategies to reverse these historically racist land use patterns by creating more multifamily and affordable housing opportunities in higher resource areas, as well as redirecting certain programs and resources, such as homeownership programs, in these higher resource areas. So, it’s a combination of those two strategies.”

Thinking Strategically About Housing Stock and Zoning – Bolstered by Data

Chung emphasizes that it’s critical to think strategically when it comes to increasing housing stock in Los Angeles County, since over 70% of existing housing stock is single family zoning. She explains that planners are doing so by thoughtfully engaging in multifamily rezoning in a way that maximizes opportunities and minimizes negative implications for AFHH’s target populations. Chung adds that Los Angeles County has been innovative in creatively up-zoning single family zoning to increase housing supply, including through allowing for accessory dwelling units in single family lots to increase rental housing stock — and by encouraging the development of “missing middle” housing types, like duplexes and triplexes. 

 She explains that having reliable data is key to implementing these strategies, noting that the state and county provided many useful tools to support this process. This includes one that overlaid “socioeconomic data, access to transportation data, environmental justice data, put it all together and give us a big picture look at where we have to focus our efforts to respond and help communities that are in need immediately but also plant the seeds to reverse those trends.” 

Play Video

Enhancing Protections and Opportunities with Intentionality

In Hanuman’s view, striking a balance also means thinking intensively about “what inclusive development really means” and updating laws to simultaneously enhance housing protections and opportunities. Hanuman indicates that California used to proactively address the overconcentration of affordable housing in low-income communities and the displacement of low-income residents in gentrifying communities. This process, which California called “community redevelopment,” endeavored to promote affordable housing development in communities with lower housing density and to ensure that ethnic enclaves and low-income communities of color were not subject to displacement pressures from gentrification by seeking to create “opportunities for low income people to stay in their neighborhoods.” But, since the community redevelopment process was dissolved in 2012, the state now has “been slowly building those back in land use laws.”  

According to Hanuman, inclusive development “means bringing in more housing … but it also means bringing in more housing with an intentionality to meet the needs of more lower-income communities that need housing the most.” She emphasizes that this intentionality means that new housing should be built and preserved, that market rate developers must include a percentage of affordable housing in their developments, and that rent stabilization and tenant protections must be in place to ensure that families aren’t pushed out of their homes in a hot housing market that encourages landlords to sell their buildings. “It’s a whole slew of thinking about protections and opportunities and ensuring that those protections and opportunities are done with intentionality,” she stresses. 

Published: Dec. 16, 2022

The Los Angeles County Experience: Part 3

Connecting the Dots

How are participants in the AFH process are thinking through how both obstacles and opportunities beyond housing factor into the planning effort?