People Can't Live In A Mini-Mart

Nate Berg's picture
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This message is brought to you by the frustrated residents of a city where strip malls prosper and the stock of affordable housing struggles to keep up with demand.

Housing Crisis In L.A.

A new strip mall being constructed at the intersection of Venice Blvd. and Western Ave. in Los Angeles inspired this public display.

Strip malls are in no short supply in L.A., and this is just one example of yet another being built in the city. Unmixed-use retail developments like this are popping up all over the place. Much less new housing is being built. And a sharply lower amount of new affordable housing is being built.

According to the Los Angeles Department of City Planning, nearly 600,000 square feet of retail space was constructed between April 1 and June 3, 2006. This compares to 624 new dwelling units in multi-family developments constructed in that same period. In square footage, these two amounts are about equal.

But the city's housing shortage can be witnessed in the following figures: L.A. County's population increased by more than 1.3 million people between 1990 and 2006, while only about 200,000 housing units were built. This was reported in a report recently released by the Greater Los Angeles/Ventura County Chapter of the Building Industry Association (BIA/GLAV) and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC).

The U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey data for 2005 shows that the median household value in the city is more than $500,000. And of the city's roughly 775,000 renters, about 350,000 pay at least 35% of their income on housing.

The L.A. Housing Department reports that about 100,000 households occupy housing that is subsidized in some way.

The city's housing department hosts a list of all the affordable housing projects it has developed. There are currently 286 projects on this list, each having an average of about 5 units designated as "affordable". The average income requirement for these units is about 60% percent of the city's median household income of $42,000. But most of these units are already occupied. And with subsidies expiring, a significant amount of the city's affordable housing stock is reverting to the market rate.

Housing Crisis In L.A.

While the term "housing crisis" can be proved or disproved by a wide variety of statistics, there does seem to be a shortage. This message -- whether you call it graffiti or a public service announcement -- attempts to call attention to some significant issues facing the city. But, valid social commentary or not, the space it occupied has a price. And within days some advertiser paid that price, pulling L.A.'s housing crisis out of the general public's sight, and (most likely) back out of its collective mind.

Nate Berg is a contributing editor for Planetizen and freelance journalist.

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