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An affordable-housing plan from business groups

January 8, 2009 |  3:08 pm

A downtown tower in its early stages Wary that city leaders are moving forward with a plan that could force developers to include housing for working-class people in all new developments, business groups today put forth their own affordable-housing plan.

Its centerpiece is a network of “housing incentive zones” around the city where developers would be allowed to relax height requirements and receive expedited approvals. Taller, the reasoning goes, means more units, meaning developers can afford to make some of them available to working people at lower prices. The plan calls for giving increased benefits to neighborhoods that accept higher density, in the form of sidewalk repairs, park expansion or other improvements. And it calls for building housing on industrial land and surplus city property.

“People have to live somewhere,” said Carol Schatz, president of the Central City Assn., which put together the proposals on behalf of developers and business groups. She said the proposals offer workable ways to build affordable housing without bankrupting developers or driving them from the city.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents downtown and South Los Angeles, areas where thousands of units have been built in the last few years, pledged to introduce laws to enact some of the proposals.

But many housing advocates were scornful, saying the plans would do little to increase the supply of housing for poor and working people, such as secretaries, laborers and teachers who increasingly have been priced out of many areas of Los Angeles.

“It isn’t just about increasing supply,” said Beth Steckler, a consultant to Housing LA, a coalition of labor and community groups pushing affordable housing. “It’s about increasing the supply of housing that is within the reach of people who live here.”

Today’s action raises the curtain on a debate over housing policy that is expected to rage through City Hall over the next few months. Next week, city officials will hold a public meeting on a housing plan.

Under pressure from labor and community groups, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and a majority of City Council members have publicly announced their support for a “mixed-income” policy that would require new developments to include subsidized units for poor and working people. Businesses have long complained that such a policy — though required in more than 100 other California cities — could stifle development in Los Angeles if its demands are too onerous.

--Jessica Garrison

Photo: A downtown tower in its early stages. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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