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CES In The News
Daily Journal
Wednesday July 12, 2006
Tensions Surround Condo Conversions
by Anat Rubin

LOS ANGELES - Affordable housing advocates, working to convince city officials to slow the tide of condo conversions sweeping Los Angeles in recent years, plan to demonstrate outside the National Condo Conversion conference in Century City Thursday.

Protesters are expected to converge in front of the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza holding umbrellas to "symbolically weather the storm," said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival.

"We think it's inappropriate for them to be doing this in a city facing one of the worst affordable housing shortages in the nation," he said.

The conference will cover affordable housing conversions and includes workshops on local ordinances, legal issues and political obstacles to conversion.

Conference chairman Robert Sheridan said protesters are "aiming the gun in the wrong direction."

"I view condos as some variation of entry-level housing," he said. "They provide an alternative to the high price of single family homes."

Sheridan, a real estate developer, said California has been one of the strongest markets for conversions and condominium sales in the last several years.

"But I don't see the connection between the conference and a shortage in affordable housing," he said.

Los Angeles has lost more than 11,000 affordable rental units to condo conversions and demolition in the last five years, according to the Los Angeles Housing Department.

That figure does not include rental units lost in buildings built after 1978, which the city cannot track.

Housing advocates have asked the city council for a temporary moratorium on conversions and demolitions while the city considers more permanent legislation.

The recommendations include information on what other cities have done to preserve affordable rental housing, which experts define as housing for low income people.

San Francisco, for instance, limits conversions to 200 units per year while the Berkeley limit is 100, said Barbara Schultz of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

Santa Monica requires a plan for the replacement of affordable housing before demolition or conversion is approved and does not allow for conversion if the vacancy rate is below 5 percent.

But Sheridan said such legislation is "unhealthy."

"Affordable housing is a problem the country is having," he said. "But rent control is not a valid answer. Anytime you hold back natural market forces, you're going to create distortion. You have to deal with the basic issues and not just say, 'How do we gerrymander this by market restraint.'"

Gross said he has "nothing against condominiums per se. But when they start converting existing housing, we're not getting anything. In fact, we're losing."

Some California cities will not allow conversions if the result is a net loss of rental units. Gross supports similar restrictions in Los Angeles.

"The face of Los Angeles is changing forever," he said. "Our strength has always been our diversity, but what we're heading toward is a city of the rich."

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