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Westwood Forward endorses The Agora citing potential as affordable student housing

The Agora is a proposed 16-story high-rise apartment complex on Hilgard Avenue. Westwood Forward, a coalition of students and Westwood stakeholders, announced their support of the housing project last week. (Courtesy of Aaron Green)

By Stephanie Lai

Feb. 7, 2019 12:08 a.m.

A student coalition endorsed a high-rise housing project in Westwood in response to various community organizations that have opposed the development.

The Westwood Forward student leadership committee endorsed The Agora housing development, a proposed 16-story apartment complex on Hilgard Avenue, at their meeting Jan. 31. The developers filed the plan for the housing project with the city of Los Angeles in November and have since spoken to stakeholders and advisory boards on the project.

Michael Skiles, a leader of Westwood Forward and its student leadership committee, said the committee voted in support of the project because they recognized the need for student housing in Westwood. Skiles said the only way to raise the quality of housing and increase the quantity of affordable housing is through large housing projects like The Agora. Westwood Forward is a coalition of students and stakeholders who aim to revitalize Westwood.

The current tenant of the site The Agora aims to develop, PodShare, has 90 beds and charges residents $840 a month, PodShare Manager Ashley Miniard said. However, the location is only 60 to 70 percent occupied each day. If The Agora’s application is approved by the city, PodShare’s lease would end prematurely to accommodate the new housing development.

Aaron Green, a spokesperson for The Agora, said the development will offer 462 beds for $1,000 to $1,200 a month, with at least 52 beds offered for less than $500 a month in accordance with Measure JJJ, meaning the beds will be priced less than the proposed standard rent range for Westwood.

Skiles said he thinks The Agora would allow more people to benefit from affordable and high-quality housing than PodShare, based on information provided by Green.

In addition, PodShare’s longest rental period is eight months, Skiles said. Miniard confirmed that most people don’t stay at PodShare for more than eight months.

Skiles added PodShare’s housing is more suitable as a temporary residence than as permanent student housing.

Skiles said his coalition’s platform aims to provide student housing in Westwood.

“If we don’t rally behind this single attempt to build student housing, then it will signal to the community that even with Westwood Forward and all the progress we’ve made, there’s no political difference in the reality that it’s impossible to build housing in Westwood,” Skiles said.

The Holmby Westwood Property Owners Association voted in opposition of the project while the UCLA Graduate Students Association endorsed it. The Westwood Neighborhood Council voted against the housing project as well at their January meeting, but now plans to repeal their initial vote.

Lisa Chapman, president of the WWNC, said the council will repeal their vote due to recommendations from the city attorney’s office.

Green said the city attorney’s office instructed the WWNC to not discuss the project in their January meeting because of possible legal violations committed by the neighborhood council.

Green said he received threatening messages from Chapman. The council’s code of conduct requires representatives to maintain professional and respectful manners, Green said.

Green added the council did not follow protocol because they did not allow the project developers to present to WWNC’s Land Use Committee and later to the full board. In addition, the developers were not informed that their project was on the January meeting agenda.

Chapman said the city attorney’s office did not find any conduct violations, allowing the WWNC to discuss the project at their January meeting.

However, Green said the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment recommended the council table the discussion.

Chapman added the council will vote to repeal their initial opposition in their February meeting to be fair to The Agora developers and give them a chance to respond Wednesday.

Green said the developers are under no legal requirement to present to the numerous Westwood advisory boards and stakeholders. However, The Agora developers plan to continue engaging with the community to gather input on the project.

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Stephanie Lai
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