Tuesday, October 22

SB 50 could help provide students with more affordable housing in Westwood

Westwood, like many Los Angeles communities, suffers from lack of housing and sky-high rent. State Senate Bill 50 would address this by incentivizing the development of more high-density housing near job-rich and transit-driven neighborhoods. While homeowners and the city council have opposed the bill, it should be passed. (Daniel Leibowitz/Daily Bruin staff)

Westwood, like many Los Angeles communities, suffers from lack of housing and sky-high rent. State Senate Bill 50 would address this by incentivizing the development of more high-density housing near job-rich and transit-driven neighborhoods. While homeowners and the city council have opposed the bill, it should be passed. (Daniel Leibowitz/Daily Bruin staff)

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated SB 50 was a reformulated version of SB 27. In fact, it is a reformulated version of SB 827.

This post was updated on April 22 at 6:18 p.m.

Westwood is a tale of two cities: The west side boasts a picturesque campus with rolling hills and glowing bricks, all of which create a place for the world’s sharpest minds to flourish. The east side, on the other hand, has little more than ramshackle, unmanaged apartments and pricey “luxury residences” well out of the price range of most college students.

Westwood’s exorbitant rents, which average an extortionate $3,416 per month, can be attributed largely to the neighborhood’s lack of apartment-style housing. Much of the neighboring residential areas consist of single-family homes instead of buildings that can house multiple residences. While this might make for prettier neighborhoods, it creates an ugly housing process for students living off-campus.

State Senate Bill 50 could help change that.

The embattled bill, which will be heard by the state Senate on April 24, would require towns to allow apartment construction within a half-mile of a rail transit station, within a quarter mile of a high-frequency bus stop or within a so-called “job-rich” neighborhood. It’s a reformulated version of last year’s SB 827 and now protects against prior expressed fears, such as gentrification.

Westwood is a neighborhood that meets the bill’s proposed requirements – meaning the housing floodgates in this expensive college town would finally open if the legislation passes.

And it should.

Westwood’s housing crisis derives largely from the city’s lack of options. Because housing is a renter’s market, landlords and property owners in the status quo are able to escalate costs for students on the hunt for a place to live. SB 50 would create more apartment buildings in high-density areas, which for Westwood, would create competition that would drive rents down to affordable rates.

Paavo Monkkonen, an assistant professor of urban planning, said an increase in apartment buildings could drive apartment pricing down.

“Given that there’s already a ton of demand for housing near campus and the prices for the old stock are quite high, if there was competition for new stock then the prices of the old stock might come down,” Monkkonen said.

The opposite scenario is taking place right now: The lack of housing allows property owners to take advantage of students by skyrocketing rents because students don’t have other options they can turn to.

Courtney Kim, a third-year political science student, said she lived on the Hill her first year and opted to live in a Greek-affiliated house for her second, primarily because she couldn’t figure out the ins and outs of the off-campus housing process.

“I’ve never felt like I can choose where I want to live – I more just had to go wherever was available,” Kim said.

Living in Los Angeles’ star-filled neighborhoods requires a millionaire’s budget, but that’s slowly becoming a reality for all the city’s communities.

Nic Riani, a second-year public affairs student, said he feels Westwood is not fully meeting its student housing needs.

“I feel like it’s not affordable for most students to live in Westwood or live close to campus,” Riani said. “There are students that are homeless or, you know, struggling to meet all of their needs, especially given the cost of housing.”

And attempts at affordable housing have seen immense opposition.

Take The Agora, for example, a proposed a 16-story apartment for students on Hilgard Avenue. The Westwood Neighborhood Council voted in opposition to the project, and the homes of the Little Holmby neighborhood have scattered their lawns with “Save Hilgard” signs contesting the housing development.

This kind of opposition is characteristic of city governments too.

The Los Angeles city government officially stated its opposition last week to the bill.

The reason, as most SB 50 critics argue, is that it would take away governing autonomy from the cities to determine how best to handle their housing woes. Zev Yaroslavsky, a former LA City Council member, said the bill’s one-size-fits-all approach will not create affordable housing, and community-specific action would be more effective than a state approach.

“This bill goes way too far; it’s an overly simplistic piece of legislation that will not get the job done,” Yaroslavsky said. “We need to use fewer sledgehammers and more scalpels to get this right.”

While Yaroslavsky’s logic makes sense in theory, the reality is that city-specific efforts have been made in the opposite direction. Rather than creating more affordable housing, LA has instead restricted the areas in which multiple-family housing can be built. A city-centered approach doesn’t help solve the problem students are facing and ignores the urgency of the need for affordable housing.

Moreover, the very problem of the lack of affordable housing has been created in large part by the city government’s actions over the past 40 years to reduce the production of apartments, Monkkonen said. This bill, he said, serves as California’s response.

“I think what a lot of cities are mad about is that the power to control land use and to permit (or block) development is a power that city governments have,” Monkkonen said. “No city government wants to give away its power to the state.”

Yet a bill like SB 50 is exactly what Bruins need. And now is the perfect chance for Westwood, LA and California to give students the east side they deserve – and can afford.

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Opinion columnist

Weinerth is an Opinion columnist.

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  • Wouter Dito

    Which students can afford to buy $1-3 million condos authorized by SB 50? Apartments, if any, built under SB 50 would be among the most expensive around. Whose daddy will be footing that bill? SB 50 is for corporate employees – largely in high tech and mostly from outside of California. More housing will not much help if the corporate plan for California is to continue to import new employees. What UCLA students get under SB 50 is FOOLED. There is a line from an old rock song on the subject. Meet the new boss – same as the old boss. The new boss consists of self-serving multi-national corporations and their overpaid executives. To them, UCLA students are as important as they are potentially profitable. Look up “Yimby” online. Who are they really? Who pays their salaries. Go back a year to the predecessor bill: SB 827. There you will find corporate execs now hiding behind the scenes.

    • NateDogg11

      Nice try NIMBY. I’m guessing you own property and want to limit competition and squeeze renters for every dollar possible. Would you also be opposed to 5,000 units of affordable school-owned high rises? I bet you would.

      Basic logic (and every expert) will tell you that if you flood the market with new supply, prices across the board will go down, even if the supply is high end. Many of these tech employees are former UCLA students living in westwood who would love to buy a condo.

    • Alex

      Yeah sure, keep opposing bills like SB 50 to inflate your own property values.

      Building more apartments increases supply and lowers rents.

  • Kelly523

    The writer is profoundly misinformed.

    1. Westwood is not a city. It is a neighborhood within the city of Los Angeles. Its neighborhood council is one of nearly 100 neighborhood councils in Los Angeles.

    2. The city of LA does not restrict the construction of multi-family residential buildings. LA’s thousands of miles of underutilized commercial zones, many of which have one-story strip malls along transit routes, could already host thousands of new four- to five-story apartment complexes and still conform to existing zoning.

    3. Adding to the supply of housing through a state-driven, top-down usurpation of local planning control will never lead to the lowering of rents coming into parity with the miserably depressed wages of low- to middle-income households.

    4. SB 50 neither boosts the construction of affordable housing nor protects renters from exorbitant rent increases or evictions.

    5. Generous measures like JJJ and Prop HHH already provide many incentives to developers to build affordable units. LA, in fact, is doing more than any other California city to approve dense housing developments.

    6. SB 50 targets entire transit corridors, not centers. This means that apartment complexes, which would most likely be market rate or luxury, would crop up along entire bus-served routes but would be so unaffordable that college students and other low-income residents would not be able to afford them.

    7. Elsewhere in the country, such as in Denver, Colorado, and Charlotte, NC, TOD has led to gentrification and the displacement of lower-income workers out to the suburbs.

    8. In the Warner Center neighborhood of Woodland Hills in LA, more than 2,500 apartments were built between about 2008 and 2010. Rents there went up, not down. Rent in Warner Center rose an astonishing 33% from 2013 to 2018. Do you think wages did?

    9. TOD is leading to real estate speculation in the last remaining quasi-affordable areas of the San Fernando Valley. As soon as land is upzoned, its value increases, and owners of small apartment complexes see dollar signs. Several complexes, for example, have been sold recently in Canoga Park in anticipation of the Transit Neighborhood Plan, which will wipe out the largely Latino community in eastern Canoga Park.

    • NateDogg11

      Another NIMBY with falsehoods. Flood the market with high end supply and the people who buy these units will refrain from occupying and gentrifying low end units. Every study says this. On the other end, people with propaganda such as yours are usually rich apartment owners in Westwood that are afraid they will need to charge less than $3k for a 1 bedroom if they need to actually compete.