Against the Broadway people-mover

Yesterday, Curbed had an article about the proposed DTLA people-mover, which is apparently going to travel about the speed of a walking human.

I’ve been a supporter of the project for a while, because I love Broadway and want it to continue to improve.

But I’ve changed my mind, and here’s why:

Two days ago, I walked from Broadway and 9th up to 5th and Main. Along the way, I was pan-handled four times and counted five instances where I had to step over fresh pee. Bottom line: The problem of homelessness downtown is the reason Broadway sucks, not the lack of a trolley.

The proposed streetcar is going to cost around $270MM. That amount of equity would build a ton of housing.

How much? Well, affordable housing deals don’t pay property taxes and never have vacancy. So, they can support enormous amounts of leverage… usually in the range of 85-95%.

If you assume 90%, then $270MM gets you $2.7B worth of affordable housing. How much housing is that?

Well, affordable projects are required by law to use prevailing wage (aka union) labor. So they cost much more to build than market rate housing. But, even if you assume $400k / unit (I cried typing that number), you’re looking at $2.7B / $400k = 6,750 units worth of affordable housing.

My cursory reserch into the Skid Row homeless population puts it in the range of 3,000 people, give or take.

So, instead of building a people-mover that moves no faster than a person, let’s:

  • Build, say, 2-3,000 units of affordable housing spread throughout LA County (so as not to perpetuate the concentration of poverty downtown)
  • Spend the remaining money to step-up enforcement of quality of life crimes downtown (like public urination)