How L.A. Is Tackling Homelessness With Limited Real Estate

In 2019, the City of Los Angeles recorded a 16% increase in homelessness, putting current homeless numbers at more than 36,000 people in the city alone. The steady rise in homelessness, mixed with the ongoing housing crisis in LA, has caused many real estate developers to look for solutions that are both practical and sustainable.

Voters in LA approved a measure in 2012 that added a special tax in the area that goes towards solving homelessness. These funds are often used to secure long-term home rental contracts for affordable housing, especially in new developments. Where is the money going, and what kind of projects are taking place to address the growing problem of homelessness in LA?

LA’s housing crisis has many proposed solutions in the works. Of these, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are a more recent focus of the local government. More than 500,000 LA lots are currently zoned for single family use, though lots may include a separate storage facility or auxiliary building. Many homeowners or property owners have been renovating these secondary buildings and turning them into housing units called ADUs.

Until 2017, laws governing the use and specifics of ADUs were highly restrictive, with only a few hundred being permitted annually. These laws changed in 2017 at a state level, making it far easier to get a permit for an ADU. In 2018, around 5,000 ADU permits were issued, in comparison to 2017’s 150 or fewer. Neville predicts that numbers will increase to 8,000 – 10,000 in 2019. He believes that many of the new permits are for existing ADUs that weren’t permitted before.

Neville approached Perfitt, a licensed contractor, and the two started a small company aimed at making ADUs simpler. The company, Building Blocks, is working to develop a cut-and-paste solution for designing, permitting, and building ADUs within different properties in LA, though they’re still working out some of the design problems. Their aim is to help develop a larger number of affordable housing units within existing single-family lots in the city.

The Bungalow Courts project encompasses a few separate Bungalow-style housing developments in LA that will be built over a period of time. Currently, the Bungalow Gardens unit is in development. This is a small-scale housing development. Four small bungalow duplexes occupy the lot, 4 studios and 4 one-bedrooms, with shared space all around and no parking. While Perfitt admits that more units could have been built, and states that future bungalow developments will likely be multi-story, he concludes that community involvement and support, as well as “contextual design” were the most important factors in the first project.

Bungalow-style housing was common in LA from the 1900s to the 1930s as a simple, low-cost way to provide multi-family housing in smaller lots. California bungalows are simple, one story houses, often with half-story lofts, that feature a basic, functional design and an airy, open floorplan. Changes to zoning laws in the mid-1930s requiring more parking spaces made bungalows unfeasible.

Overall, a point of emphasis for both Perfitt and Neville is the need for community involvement and support for their projects. They aren’t interested in seeking direct engagement through zoning meetings or other similarly traditional routes, because of their experience with loud opposition to homeless housing from a vocal majority. But, they seek community involvement that will directly benefit those in the area.

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