Some more thoughts about microunits

Bisnow has an interesting piece on the state of the art in microunits.

For those who don’t know, “microunit” is the name given to super-small studios being developed in expensive coastal cities. The idea is to create a self-contained 220-350 sq ft apartment which, in theory, ought to be affordable for younger tenants who care more about proximity to interesting bars, restaurants, parks, etc. than they do about having huge kitchens.

Notably absent from the article is any mention of Los Angeles.

That’s weird, right? We have a lot of the same housing affordability issues as the cities mentioned, including NY, SF, etc. So what’s going on?

As usual, it’s a zoning / parking issue. Without some change to the zoning code, even the smallest units require at least one parking space each. Given that you’re going to need to provide a parking space (and carry the cost of doing so), your incentive is to build the biggest studio you can, in order to amortize the cost of the parking across more rent.

What the city ought to do is conduct an experiment. Let someone build a big microunit building in a reasonably desirable area (downtown?), right next to a metro stop, with 50% of the usual parking. Require that the parking be rented separately from the units, so the units rented without parking will be cheap. Require a ton of bike storage. Perhaps require a waiting area in front for Ubers. See what happens.

My guess is that the building would fill up in about five seconds.

So long as this is done in already-dense areas where the infrastructure can handle the influx of residents without parking, this seems like a huge win for the city… obviously it would increase tax revenue. But, more importantly, it would provide lower-cost housing for young people who are the engine of our creative economy.

Another report from the front line of the zoning wars

Fund 3 investors know we’re in the process of adding a second story with two units to a duplex we bought a few months ago.

This is a pretty straight-forward operation: There is plenty of room on the lot and the zoning allows for more than two additional units.

This should be the kind of project the city loves; we’re adding housing to an area in desperate need of it.

With that in mind, I think you’ll appreciate the comments we got back from the city on our proposed plans.

Among other, less annoying changes, the city is requiring us to include a 30 sq. ft. recycling room in the property.

30 sq. ft. doesn’t sound like a lot, right? But development is a game of inches, and losing that space would probably reduce the bedroom count on one of our units from three to two, which would reduce the rent on the unit and therefore make the project less appealing from a financial perspective.

Thankfully, I believe we will find a way around this issue.

But, at a time when the city is suffering from a persistent, severe housing shortage, PERHAPS THE CITY SHOULD PRIORITIZE ADDITIONAL HOUSING OVER RECYCLING ROOMS!!!

How the state ought to handle gangsters

Today’s LA Times has a heart-warming story about a couple of gangbangers who decided it would be an excellent idea to carjack some people at 3AM this morning right near our office. Not content with stealing the car, these wonderful humans shot their victims (thankfully, no one was killed).

Based on where this happened, I assure you that the cops know with a reasonable degree of certainty who did this.

What I want to know is: Why do the police wait until the bullets start flying to get involved?

In my experience, nearly every one of the gangsters that plague our neighborhoods is known to the police, has prior convictions, is on parole, etc.

If I were the LAPD, I would be all over these guys. I would be visiting their homes regularly, at odd hours, checking in on them, asking them questions, taking pictures, writing down the names of their friends, etc. I would arrest them for the smallest infractions, work with the courts to have them evicted from their homes, drug test them, you name it.

You might think of the above as harassment. I would say that, if you belong to a gang, you have effectively declared war on the state.* And, since the state’s primary obligation is the maintenance of order and security for its citizens, the state ought to respond to these kinds of declarations with every single weapon in its arsenal.

Anything else is screwing around.

* By “state”, I don’t mean California. I mean “state” in the political theory sense… an institution claiming a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within the territory it controls.

Score one for density

Today we learned that the mayor over-ruled his own planning commissioners to approve a high-rise building in K-Town.

Here’s the money-quote from the LA Times explaining the opposition to the project:

“Such a huge project would be ‘wildly inappropriate’ for the location, said Commissioner Maria Cabildo, an affordable housing developer. “I’m probably one of the biggest advocates on this commission for housing — market rate and affordable — and I just cannot in any way feel good about this project,” she said during the hearing.”

Here’s a picture of the block in question:

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.36.27 PM


Here’s a map showing it’s proximity to the metro:

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 2.41.17 PM


In case you don’t know K-Town, that’s a ~10 minute walk to either station.

You can’t be pro-housing and block a huge project in this neighborhood. If we’re not going to build densely in an area like this, where are we going to?

Bravo, Mayor Garcetti!

The evolution of ride-sharing

Just got done reading this piece in Pando, which is basically Sarah Lacy complaining about Lyft’s new Lyft Line service, which is basically paid car pooling (eg the software lets you split the cost of a car service with some strangers, thereby reducing the cost).

Buried in the piece is an extraordinary insight from Lacy: That services like this compete more with municipal buses than they do with car services or taxis.

Every morning, on my way back from the gym, I walk past a crowded bus stop. Every day, when I pass, I think about how much time is wasted by people who use the bus for commuting. The trade-off with riding the bus in LA is basically that you can get anywhere for $2-3, but it’s going to take you an hour or more, plus a bunch of additional time to walk from the bus stop to your destination.

That’s a terrible trade, unless you’re incredibly hard-up for cash.

Enter Lyft Line, where, for $3-5 each (at least in San Francisco), a group of people can share a private car which will pick each of them up wherever they are and drop each of them off at their preferred destination. That means much less waiting and much less walking.

Yes, it’s more expensive, but my strong suspicion is that people will trade the extra $1-2 for dramatically better service.

And that’s going to revolutionize public transportation, which will (or, at least, should) revolutionize how we plan our cities.