Adding density without changing LA (too much)

Rapidly rising rents over the past 3-4 years have sparked a lot of conversation about the effect of housing costs on poverty rates.

We are pretty sensitive on this issue, because our business is basically about raising rents.

But we and everyone else in our business are responding to market forces. Simply put: LA is an incredibly desirable place to live but the city’s zoning does not permit sufficient construction to service the demand.

A lot of the opposition to increased density comes from people who own single family homes and do not want the character of their neighborhoods to change.

But this is kind of a red herring. Any sensible plan to meaningfully increase residential densities would focus on areas served by public transportation… eg areas which are already zoned for commercial or high-density residential development.

The reason, besides the neighbors’ sensibilities, is that you don’t want to stick a whole bunch of new residents into a neighborhood with no other transportation options besides private cars.

If some unwise deity made me King of LA, here’s what I would do:

  • Immediately up-zone all R3 residential lots within 1/2 mile of the Metro or a serious bus-stop to R4 (eg go from one unit per 800 sq ft of lot to one unit per 400 sq ft)
  • Immediately reduce parking requirements for any unit within 1/2 mile of the Metro or a serious bus-stop to 1 space per unit
  • Allow double bike racks to replace 1/3 of required parking (eg 2 bike spaces = 1 parking space)
  • Reduce front and rear setbacks to 5′

For affected lots of 7500 sq ft (the standard size), you would go from having nine permitted units to 18. And, with the change to the parking requirements, you would not have to go underground to park.

The result would be a bunch of four story buildings with

  • Ground floor with parking for 12 cars and 12 bikes plus one studio unit (to comply with ADA requirements)
  • Three levels of residential above, two with six units and one with five

Would these buildings be amazing to live in? No, they would not.

But they would provide a whole bunch of housing, at a reasonable price, near public transportation, without fundamentally altering the character of the single family residential neighborhoods so many people are so keen to protect.