How One L.A. Developer Uses the Law to Build Apartments

California’s density bonus law lets developers skirt some zoning regulations to build multifamily housing.

2 minute read

August 11, 2023, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Google street view of late Victorian home in Harvard Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, with one-story commercial building next door.

The Harvard Heights home that Jha plans to redevelop into a 33-unit apartment building. | Google Maps / Google Maps

A Los Angeles developer is frustrating residents by identifying single-family lots where the law allows for building multi-family housing, buying up the properties, and redeveloping them into apartment buildings, reports Liam Dillon in the Los Angeles Times. Housing advocates might hail this as a win for affordable housing, while preservationists and neighborhood groups argue Akhilesh Jha’s relentless pursuit of new projects is destroying historic neighborhoods and using legal loopholes for personal profit.

“While Jha’s ideas are far out of scale with nearby properties, he’s also not plopping the buildings in the middle of subdivisions. The projects are all within about half a mile of a major freeway with other multifamily housing and businesses nearby,” Dillon adds. Jha has won approval for his projects largely because the law, in many cases, favors housing production.

Jha uses California’s density bonus law, which “allows developers to build more dense housing on a lot in exchange for dedicating some of the units for low-income families,” to bypass many zoning codes and building regulations such as height limits and parking requirements. Jha also filed an application using the ‘builder’s remedy’ in the brief weeks when Los Angeles was eligible for such projects.

With only 10 percent or less of the units slated for low-income households, critics argue that Jha is disingenuously using “the most aggressive interpretation of state regulations” to build outsized projects that will strain local resources and bring down property values.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023 in Los Angeles Times

Large blank mall building with only two cars in large parking lot.

Pennsylvania Mall Conversion Bill Passes House

If passed, the bill would promote the adaptive reuse of defunct commercial buildings.

April 18, 2024 - Central Penn Business Journal

Rendering of wildlife crossing over 101 freeway in Los Angeles County.

World's Largest Wildlife Overpass In the Works in Los Angeles County

Caltrans will soon close half of the 101 Freeway in order to continue construction of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing near Agoura Hills in Los Angeles County.

April 15, 2024 - LAist

Workers putting down asphalt on road.

U.S. Supreme Court: California's Impact Fees May Violate Takings Clause

A California property owner took El Dorado County to state court after paying a traffic impact fee he felt was exorbitant. He lost in trial court, appellate court, and the California Supreme Court denied review. Then the U.S. Supreme Court acted.

April 18, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

Wind turbines and solar panels against a backdrop of mountains in the Mojave Desert near Palm Springs, California

California Grid Runs on 100% Renewable Energy for Over 9 Hours

The state’s energy grid was entirely powered by clean energy for some portion of the day on 37 out of the last 45 days.

6 hours ago - Fast Company

Close-up of hand holding up wooden thermometer in front of blurred street

New Forecasting Tool Aims to Reduce Heat-Related Deaths

Two federal agencies launched a new, easy-to-use, color-coded heat warning system that combines meteorological and medical risk factors.

7 hours ago - Associated Press via Portland Press Herald

View of Dallas city skyline with moderately busy freeway in foreground at twilight.

AI Traffic Management Comes to Dallas-Fort Worth

Several Texas cities are using an AI-powered platform called NoTraffic to help manage traffic signals to increase safety and improve traffic flow.

April 24 - Dallas Morning News

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.