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Editorial: The Agora is an overwhelming mirage with an underwhelming delivery

By Editorial Board

Feb. 3, 2019 10:12 p.m.

Affordable housing is yet again a dashed hope in Westwood.

The Agora, a proposed private 16-story apartment complex, came to town in November, claiming to offer affordable student housing in Westwood. The two physicians behind the project had filed plans with the Los Angeles Department of City of Planning, promising amenities such as a farmed vegetable garden, a teaching kitchen and a meditation garden. While several community organizations, such as the Holmby Westwood Property Owners Association and the Westwood Neighborhood Council, spoke out against the project on the basis of zoning technicalities, the endeavor seemed a noble attempt to bring – for once – a good deal for students.

We should have known it was too good to be true.

The truth is, affordability really isn’t the mantra at The Agora. Most of the complex’s beds would be rented out at a cost of $1,000 to $1,200 per month. The Agora advertises this cost as less expensive than some UCLA-owned student housing, but most of its beds would still fall out of the range of what students would call economical – let alone affordable.

A 14P meal plan in a classic triple-occupancy dorm on the hill costs nearly $13,000. Its price averages out to just over $1,433 per month over the course of the nine months a student typically would live there. In other words, for just an extra $200 more than the most expensive residences at The Agora, students are offered meals, utilities and the energetic paraphernalia associated with campus housing. By those numbers, The Agora isn’t really “affordable.” At best, it isn’t even marginally better.

That’s clear given developers of The Agora don’t really seem to stand for affordability. Despite doubling the number of beds in the property from 231 to 462, the price for each bed remained the same – effectively increasing occupancy at the same price. Even more so, construction of The Agora would require the removal of the current tenants of the property, including those in PodShare, a co-living affordable housing company that currently rents out beds at $840 per month.

Community leaders appear to have missed this nuance. Both the North Westwood Neighborhood Council and the Graduate Students Association have shown support for The Agora, neglecting to examine the finer intricacies of the project. But when students at UCLA are forced into homelessness for exorbitant rent prices, we ought to hold developers to higher standards before deeming their property affordable – especially when they only manage a price tag that is a couple hundred bucks off university housing costs.

Affordability-centered developers would not sacrifice more affordable options to promote their own, and they wouldn’t shortchange students by doubling the availability of beds while keeping the cost of rent after airing concerns from the community.

And while current plans for The Agora include around approximately 50 beds that would be rented at under $500 per month, that quantity is there so the project can stay minimally compliant with Measure JJJ, which sets affordable housing mandates for projects near metro stops – not for the sake of students.

Developers in the neighborhood have long taken advantage of students’ need to live near campus, and The Agora seems just another example. And as long as we fall for nice-to-hear messaging from developers, affordable housing will continue to be as elusive as The Agora’s commitment to it.

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