Excerpted From: Shashi Hanuman and Nisha Vyas, Race, Place, and Housing in Los Angeles, 29 Journal of Affordable Housing & Community Development Law 449 (2021) (169 Footnotes) (Full Document)


HanumanVyasLos Angeles is experiencing a sustained, persistent crisis in housing affordability, availability, and accessibility. The interrelated markers of the housing crisis--including severely rent-overburdened households, overcrowding, and homelessness--increase every year and, in the case of homelessness, become increasingly visible. This crisis is rooted in generations of entrenched exclusionary housing and development policies, contributing to racially and economically segregated geographies as well as pernicious class and race disparities. Shockingly, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 600,000 people lived in Los Angeles County paying ninety percent or more of their income on rent. Decades of stagnating wages, skyrocketing rents, and systems of inequality have caused disproportionate harm to lower-income communities of color, contributing to double-digit increases in the numbers of unhoused persons. Now, with a global pandemic triggering an even more severe economic crisis, the region teeters on a precipice as mass evictions threaten the housing security of hundreds of thousands of households. The pandemic has laid bare stark, structural inequities in housing, health, and the economy, making even more evident the need for a more nuanced, holistic approach to defining and generating solutions to Los Angeles's housing crisis.

In this essay, we illuminate the historical roots of the Los Angeles housing crisis and respond to an ever-present narrative that deregulatory strategies to accelerate housing development must be given precedence to solve the housing crisis in Los Angeles. We then provide examples of necessary strategies and tools to achieve inclusive development, including (1) neighborhood-based development approaches combining community-based planning with targeted investments to address race- and place-inequities; (2) implementation of a new state law in California requiring all jurisdictions to affirmatively further fair housing; and (3) application of a race-impact analysis on new housing legislation.

Our goal is to demonstrate that community development practitioners should be analyzing race- and place-equity considerations up front in planning for housing in our neighborhoods. The approach suggested in this essay looks not just to the housing crisis, but also to how housing intersects with other markers of community health, including access to economic opportunity, jobs, environmental factors, and education--all currently determined by race and place.

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The United States is having a long overdue reckoning with systemic racism. During a global pandemic, several incidents of officer-involved murders of Black Americans including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor rose to national headlines, sparking outcry and protest. This, combined with pandemic's toll on BIPOC communities, has elevated long-standing conversations about structural racism and disparities in policing, health, housing, education, and employment. The theft of opportunities for BIPOC to build wealth, to maintain their health, and to build economic opportunities has had a devastating impact on the country.

Existing narratives, systems, and strategies have not been working. The market is not producing housing affordable to low-income communities and communities of color in the places that we need it, and we are rapidly losing existing affordable homes and the cultural diversity and vibrancy that Los Angeles is known for. An equitable recovery demands that we not fall back to the status quo. It demands that we rethink dominant narratives, including the use of an overly simplistic supply and demand narrative.

A race- and place-conscious production approach involves a commitment to community-led planning where communities most impacted by racist agendas of the past can acquire land, and inform, design, and lead the solutions for their neighborhoods, as demonstrated in diverse areas such as Boyle Heights, Little Tokyo, Vernon Central, and South LA, and as will be necessary as cities in the Southern California region begin to update their housing elements in 2021. Such an approach will advance development equitably, rather than shutter development entirely.

It also involves commitments to prioritizing enhanced tenant protections and keeping tenants housed; building sufficient housing affordable to lower-income populations; ending criminalization of poverty; protecting civil rights of those that are both housed and unhoused; using public land for public good; investment in previously disinvested communities; express strategies to combat institutionalized racism; and equity in employment and education structures and wages. And it will require all jurisdictions to take seriously their obligation to affirmatively further fair housing through adoption and implementation of meaningful housing elements in 2021.

A holistic, race- and place-conscious approach recognizes that people do not live in units. They live in homes, neighborhoods, and communities. As the work and advocacy of ACT-LA and its members demonstrate, such an approach helps ensure that voices from historically excluded communities are heard in the design of their communities--and that the designs are successful. It is a recipe for inclusion, equity, and growth for all.

Shashi Hanuman is Directing Attorney with the Community Development Project of Public Counsel in Los Angeles.

Nisha Vyas is Senior Attorney with the Western Center on Law & Poverty.