Los Angeles looks at ways to avoid displacement near transit

The “largest transit expansion in the United States” is under way in Los Angeles, says Preservation in Transit-Oriented Districts, a report issued last month by Reconnecting America and the Los Angeles Housing Department. The city is to get 42 additional transit stations as a result of the $40 billion Measure R ballot measure that voters approved in 2008. Nearby sections of Los Angeles County will get dozens more.

Expected to be phased in over three decades, the transit expansion could instead happen “within a quick, 10-year time frame if the federal government approves America Fast Forward,” the report adds. America Fast Forward is a program that would authorize new financing mechanisms, including “Qualified Transportation Improvement Bonds,” to help states and localities improve their transportation systems.

The far-reaching public investment will link residents of areas served by light rail and bus rapid transit to 1.2 million existing jobs. The downside is that rents may shoot upward in some areas served by rapid transit.

In the city, “nearly 15,000 income-restricted units have covenants, rental assistance contracts, mortgages, or other time-limited affordability requirements that will expire or are at risk of being terminated between 2012 and 2017,” the report points out. Low-income tenants “could face an economically untenable choice” if the rent restrictions aren’t renewed, the report warns: stay and pay burdensome rents or move to areas where transit service is more sparse.

Moving away from rapid transit could be self-defeating, the report says, because “Los Angeles has one of the highest average transportation costs in the country,” with the average family spending 28 percent of its income on transportation.

To begin to avert displacement, Reconnecting America and the Housing Department have chosen four transit-oriented districts for housing preservation activities, which will be introduced over the next five years. The four were chosen because they all have “a high share of low income renters, a strengthening real estate market, and rich transit connectivity,” the report says. The four contain about 160,000 properties regulated through the City’s rent stabilization program—about a quarter of all the rent-stabilized apartments citywide. The districts are seen as pilot locations for strategies that could be introduced elsewhere in future years.

The instruments that will be used to keep housing affordable are yet to be fully identified. Among the techniques under consideration are these:

• Acquiring key properties for long-term preservation and development.

• Coordinating existing tools that can be used to keep buildings intact and reasonably priced.

• Anticipating the behavior of property owners and aiming outreach and enforcement activities at owners and tenants.

The most vulnerable properties include parcels larger than a quarter-acre which currently have rental housing. These apartments are in danger of being razed and replaced by more expensive housing.

Inexpensive housing is needed along transit lines because, according to researchers, approximately 70 percent of workers who commute by transit earn less than $25,000 a year.
The 50-page report can be downloaded from Reconnecting America’s Resource Center (reconnectingamerica.org).