Some misguided thinking about rents in Highland Park

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Just read this interview with the president of the Highland Park Neighborhood Council and it’s making me kind of mad.

Before I get into “why”, I want to begin by acknowledging Ms. Alcaraz’s hard work on behalf of the whole neighborhood. Running a neighborhood council is no joke; it’s hard, important, often thankless work for no pay (I know, since I spent a little time on the Mid City Neighborhood Council).

But just because Ms. Alcaraz knows the neighborhood incredibly well, doesn’t mean she has the right analysis of what’s going on there with housing. Here’s what she said, in response to a question about what Highland Park can do to improve the housing affordability crisis there:

“I think it has to come from the bottom up. People need to be educated about their rights as tenants, so they can advocate for themselves when the landlord raises the rent by 50% in one year or threatens to evict them for a higher paying tenant. We know this is the primary issue facing our community. The Neighborhood Council created a committee specifically focused on advocating for fair and equal housing.”

False.

Rapidly increasing rents in Highland Park are the direct result of two forces:

  1. The increased desirability of the neighborhood (principally due to new retail opening on Figueroa and York plus the opening / extension of the Gold Line); and
  2. The insane zoning that prevents developers from providing the additional housing that the market is demanding

Until the mid 1990s, Highland Park had a lot of land zoned for multifamily construction, so developers built a lot of relatively large apartment buildings.

Then people in the neighborhood decided that they had had enough of the constant construction. The neighborhood was downzoned, a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) was created, and a Q condition was introduced on York limiting building height and, I believe, FAR. Now it’s incredibly challenging to find any land at all to build on (I know, because I’m building a small building there now and want to build many more).

Do you know what happens when increase demand hits stagnant supply? Price increases.

So, with all due respect to Alcaraz, the right response to the housing affordability crisis in Highland Park isn’t (just) tenants rights eduction. It’s fixing the zoning.

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