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CES In The News
Los Angeles Daily News
Friday July 28, 2006
Panel requiring affordable housing
Cheapter units must be included in project

VAN NUYS - Amid growing concern that condo conversions are reducing the supply of affordable rentals, the Los Angeles Planning Commission required for the first time Thursday that nine units in a 100-unit condo conversion in Canoga Park be sold or rented at below-market rates.

With its decision, the Planning Commission stepped into a heated debate over the need to maintain reasonably priced rental housing while creating condominiums that allow first-time homebuyers to get into the market.

"I thought the commission did the right thing. We've taken a stand and made a clear statement that we will act to preserve affordable housing," Planning Commissioner Michael K. Woo said after the meeting.

"In the absence of other bodies taking action, we are talking about it more and more. We're anxious to come up with a way of dealing with it."

But Councilman Greig Smith, who represents the area, said he's concerned that the Planning Commission added low-income housing conditions that were never discussed with the neighborhood council or the developer prior to Thursday.

"The issue of low-cost housing never came up. It doesn't surprise me because the mayor has picked commissioners who really push agendas and this is one of them," Smith said. "If it's adequate and equitable, then we'll let it go forward. We never discussed this so I don't know if it's right-sized and proper."

The Los Angeles City Council is considering new rules to limit the number of rent-controlled and affordable apartments that are taken off the rental market to make way for condos. And recently two city housing commissions endorsed a temporary moratorium on demolitions and conversions.

Affordable-housing advocates called the Planning Commission's action a small, but significant, step.

"We're still losing 91 affordable units, but the importance of this is that it's a beginning. It sets a precedent and we hope that in future projects they will go beyond this," said Larry Gross with the
Coalition for Economic Survival

"They have the ability to deny these conversions. They have powers they have never been exercising."

Los Angeles has lost 11,000 rent-controlled units during the past five years. The city doesn't track evictions from units that aren't rent controlled so that number wouldn't include the 100 units that might be evicted from a building at 8735 Independence Ave. in Canoga Park.

The developers, DLGP LLC, want to convert the 100-unit Independence Plaza to condominiums, but they're required to widen the sidewalks and add nine parking spaces. They're also seeking to remove 100 rental units in an area where the vacancy rate is around 3 percent, which could trigger restrictions on the conversion.

In exchange for allowing the conversion without enough parking and other necessities in a low-vacancy area, the Planning Commission required the developers to sell or rent nine studio and one-bedroom units at below market rates.

That could mean selling a one-bedroom condo to a couple for about $230,000, compared with $300,000 for the median-price condo in the area.

Independence Plaza resident Shirley Rodgers said nine affordable units isn't enough.

"I personally think they should do 25 percent affordable."

She and her husband now pay $1,200 per month for their 750-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment and they'll have a hard time finding a comparable home if evicted as her building converts to condominiums.

"I have animals and it's extremely hard to find a place that's affordable to rent that takes animals," said Rodgers, who is a professional dog trainer.

Developer Jorge Palacios and attorney Corbitt Kerr, both from San Diego, said they were blindsided by the affordable-housing requirement and they would have to consider their next move.

They argued during the hearing that their project already is affordable, with studios starting at $150,000 and two-bedrooms starting at $260,000.

They also intend to offer a 5 percent discount for firefighters, nurses, teachers and other public employees.

"This will be well, well below new condo prices. It will be the most affordable housing in the area," Kerr said.

Real estate broker Joe Andrews agreed. President of the Canoga Park/West Hills Chamber of Commerce and member of the neighborhood council, he called the commission's decision myopic.

"Right now when you talk about the average price of a home, it's $500,000 and $600,000. They're offering something for $150,000 and $260,000. These condo conversions represent truly affordable housing in this real-world market."

The developers can appeal the Planning Commission's decision to the City Council, which would take the rental demolition and condo conversion debate to the city's policy-makers.

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