by Mark Lipman
I so much wanted to give praise to the Big Idea, really I did. On the surface it sounded so good – so progressive – to take a 3 acre parcel of public land in Venice and open it up for affordable housing – something our community so desperately needs, but then I started reading into the details of the proposal and all I could do was shake my head.
Now, to give credit where credit is due, the proposal that Councilman Bonin is putting forward is a good start – and I look forward to working with him and the Council Office to make this a great project for our Venice community, however, as it stands right now, I would have to say that it is completely unacceptable – for several reasons.
First and foremost, this project represents the same kind of thinking that is the root problem of our government of putting forward only what is “realistic” within the current political establishment, instead of what our community really needs and is demanding. This is where the proposal misses the mark altogether.
It simply is not good enough to just do the something that “can be done,” for the sake of doing something. We must consider the real implications of the actions we take. Not only must we do something to address our housing crisis, we must do the right thing to address our housing crisis. City Hall has a long and luxurious track record for accomplishing the wrong things for Venice and it is often – far too often – packaged as progressive with big headlines. This project is no different.
So, what is wrong with this proposed project? First of all, we must understand that in any development project the land is the most expensive part of the equation. In this case, land worth an approximate value of $50 million. (Putting that into context, $50 million represents a full half of the City’s “desired” $100 million budget for addressing homelessness for all 15 Districts of Los Angeles.)
So the biggest expense for building affordable housing in Venice is already owned by the public.
What Mike Bonin’s proposal will do is put the “development” and management” of this project – and this publicly owned land – into the hands of private Real Estate Developers (a huge boon for the Special Interests) … in exchange for a measly 35% “affordable” housing on-site.
This is outrageous!
What this does in effect is it hands over $50 million of prime Venice public land to some development company – to build a project that the city could easily build itself and then gives 65% of the finished project to these billionaire corporations to rent out at market rate, which at the bottom line is just another gift of public resources to the ultra-rich.
Just six months ago, I was working with the Council Office to save the housing of an elderly, disabled woman, who was being wrongfully evicted from The Westerly on Lincoln (a publicly funded – privately managed housing project, which has this same mix of market rate and affordable housing), and you know what UDR Management did when I got the Council Office to call on the tenant’s behalf? The management company told the Council Office, “Tough luck,” that they wouldn’t budge an inch.
We all know that in practice – even though it is illegal – affordable housing tenants are treated much worse by these management companies than those who are paying market rate. That’s a well known fact, so we already know that under this proposed plan we would get no better. This is just another example of how big development companies regulate City Hall, instead of the other way around.
What Venice needs – what Venice demands – is that this project be maintained 100% publicly owned, 100% publicly managed and 100% affordable … and when we speak of affordable, that is for low/very low/extremely low income tenants – for those who need the housing the most – those from our community – not more “affordable” transplants from the Tech Industry – but for those in our Venice community who need it the most – and those people can be found on any given night of the week sleeping on the sidewalks of 3rd and Rose – just a block away from where this project is being proposed.
This, right here, is our moment to put our walk where our talk is and do the right thing by our community. This is the Housing First opportunity we’ve been looking for.