Fixing the small lot ordinance

Was listening to a podcaster bemoan the failure of the Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance to deliver affordable housing in LA.

There’s a lot of noise around this issue, because the homes that have been built under the ordinance have ended up being pretty expensive.

Have two, distinct points to make about this issue:

  1. It is insane to compare brand-new small lot homes to older conventional homes in the same neighborhood and complain that the small-lot homes aren’t priced at a discount. Of course they’re not… they’re brand new! (By the way, over time, I expect the prices of small lot homes to fall in real terms relative to similarly-sized conventional because they don’t come with much land.)
  2. The reason it’s impossible to deliver small lots at “affordable” prices is the parking requirement.

The idea behind small lot is to cram a bunch of free-standing homes onto one lot.

The problem is that the parking code mandates two parking spaces per unit. That’s a ton of square-footage – usually 18′ x 9′ for one car and 15 x 9′ for the other. That’s ~300 sq ft of ground-floor space. Then, you need ~10′ of backup for each space… another ~330 sq ft (the rest of the backup is generally in the driveway outside the home). That’s a total of ~630 sq ft of your ground floor building envelop devoted to parking two cars.

Given the way the ordinance works, the total footprint for these homes is going to be roughly 35′ x 30′ or something… so, 1050 sq ft on the ground floor.

But 630 of that space is devoted to a garage, leaving you just 420 sq ft, which needs to support an entry hallway and stairs up, leaving just enough room, if you’re lucky for a bedroom or office space on the ground floor.

And that means having to fit two bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen and living space into the 1050 (less stairwell) on the second floor.

How do developers respond? By going up another story, to fit more habitable space onto the same footprint. And the result of the third story is considerably more square footage and higher construction cost, leading to “luxury” pricing.

Want to fix the small lot ordinance? Reduce parking required to one space, then limit the number of stories to two. The result would be a bunch of more efficient, cheaper homes.

Which was kind of the point, right?