At its final meeting before the Thanksgiving holiday last week, the Los Angeles City Council voted to adopt an update to the general plan's housing element which aims to accommodate the construction of up nearly 500,000 new homes - including more than 200,000 income-restricted units - over the coming eight years.

“The housing crisis is one of the biggest and most pressing issues facing our city,” said City Council President Nury Martinez in a news release. “While other cities have pushed back against their building obligations, our City has embraced this opportunity to develop one of the boldest housing plans in the nation and we hope to not only meet, but exceed, this challenge.”

The framework of the update, named the Plan to House L.A., requires the city to add approximately 57,000 new homes annually between 2021 and 2029 - a five-fold increase from the city's current rate of housing production.  To enable that goal, the plan calls for rezoning broad swaths of the city to create the capacity for more than 200,000 residential units within three years of adoption. 

State law is the motivating factor behind the update.  Under Southern California's new regional housing needs assessment, Los Angeles County is required to plan for more than 1.3 million new residential units over the coming eight years.  The City of Los Angeles will be responsible for a lion's share of that total, with a requirement to accommodate roughly 456,000 new homes (including 184,000 for lower-income households).

Los Angeles, according to data from the 2019 American Community Survey, has the fewest number of homes per adult of any major U.S. City.  The origins of the shortage has been traced to the 1980s, when the city's rising population coincided with scaling back zoning in many neighborhoods, thus limiting the areas in which dense housing could be built.  As a result, housing costs have outpaced income growth, making Los Angeles the most rent burdened and overcrowded major city in the country.

But in addition to a simple calculation of supply and demand with regards of housing, planners must also negotiate a legacy of land use decisions where impacts have fallen squarely on communities of color.  In a more than five-hour hearing held on October 13, Planning Department officials noted that Los Angeles, despite its much-touted diversity, is also highly segregated. 

Neighborhoods in the Westside, Northeast Los Angeles, and large swaths of the San Fernando Valley are associated with higher educational attainment, income, life expectancy and economic mobility relative to the city as a whole.  These higher-resource communities have seen fewer housing developments than other underresourced areas of the city.

At the same time, studies have found the white residents have by far the greatest access to those high-resource neighborhoods, whereas roughly 1 in 4 Black and Latino residents live in high-poverty areas. Likewise, high-poverty and majority-minority neighborhoods in Central and South Los Angeles have carried the burden of affordable housing production for the region as a whole.

To counter these historic patterns, the updated housing element places high-resource areas front-and-center for the proposed zone changes, while also including anti-displacement strategy studies, eviction defense programs, and considerations for potentially adopting inclusionary zoning.

Adoption by the City Council is not the final step in the process, however. The housing element update is also subject to review and certification by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. 

While the housing element establishes targets and overarching policies for housing development in the City of Los Angeles, the actual implementation of the zone changes require to meet state targets will be set out through separate pathways, such as the community plan updates and affordable housing incentive programs like the Transit Oriented Communities guidelines.