Ending Homelessness by Unlocking Land

July 17, 2023

Our homelessness crisis is a symptom of the larger affordable housing crisis. The latest homeless count results, released on June 29, 2023, document a 10% increase in the numbers of our unhoused neighbors, numbers will continue to grow unless we build more affordable housing.

The availability of public funding like low-income housing tax credits and the $1.2 billion bond for capital costs through Measure HHH is a key component of increasing affordable housing development. However, just as important as increasing funding are the planning and land use tools that reduce costs and expedite affordable housing development by allowing for greater use of land.

Through the process of updating the Downtown Los Angeles Community Plan, a planning document that governs land use, the Central City United (CCU) coalition worked with housed and unhoused individuals living in communities of Downtown L.A. including Skid Row, Chinatown, and Little Tokyo to identify land use tools that result in community development to lift people out of poverty. Through community outreach, trainings, leadership development, town halls, and direct advocacy, leaders agreed on an agenda to prioritize more affordable housing, especially on land parcels that were zoned for industrial purposes but are sitting vacant. To incentivize affordable housing development, the groups advocated for tools that provide automatic approval (known as “by-right”) for projects that want to build housing on land limited to industrial use, unlocking several parcels of land for housing. Typically, this type of zoning change takes at least two years when no community opposition exists; with community opposition, the land use approval process can take many years. This new land use incentive will cut that process to a few months, saving developers hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney, consultant, and loan interest fees. In exchange for this streamlined approach, the city requires developers to commit to setting aside a percentage of the units as affordable housing.

Previously, housing justice advocates had successfully advocated for similar land use incentives for areas with major public transit opportunities. In the five years that this program has existed, developers have been able to add an additional 37,000 new housing units, of which 8,000 are affordable to lower-income households. These 8,000 affordable units make up one-third of all affordable housing units approved during the same period and would not have been financially feasible to build without this land use incentive.

Since 2010, the California Community Foundation (CCF) has funded grantees and coalitions like CCU under our Housing Justice strategy to lift the voices of communities most impacted by the housing and homelessness crises to lead us to our goal of providing a safe and affordable home in a thriving community for all Angelenos. Under our new initiative, “Community Voices for Housing,” CCF is funding and convening groups to develop an ambitious policy agenda for the next phase of land use advocacy. To learn more about this project, please contact Francisco Covarrubias, Program Officer, at FCovarrubias@calfund.org.

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