A Paradigm Shift for Affordable Housing: Preserve What's Left

A Los Angeles affordable-housing developer says the industry needs to focus more on keeping existing housing affordable.

2 minute read

August 6, 2016, 11:00 AM PDT

By Elana Eden

Angelino Heights

Konrad Summers / Flickr

As California’s governor pushes to streamline affordable housing projects and an upcoming L.A. ballot measure incentivizes affordable units in new developments, it's clear that many approaches to the state’s housing crisis have one thing in common: Their main concern is to create new housing.

But while production is necessary, it’s not the only way to increase the supply of affordable housing—nor is it necessarily the most efficient, one developer argues.

It could take years for California to rebuild its capacity to produce housing on a meaningful scale. In the meantime, John Given says, "We can have an immediate and long-term impact on housing affordability using the rental housing that already occupies much of our cities."

Given is vice chair of LINC Housing, a non-profit affordable housing developer. He has an ambitious vision: In the next 10 years, he hopes to see 20 percent of the rental housing in Los Angeles County operated by social investors with the mission of keeping it affordable or making it that way.

The proposal, in essence, works like this: A social investor buys an operating rental building and charges a mix of affordable and market-rate rents. Over time, tapping into social equity and various sources of public funds, they gradually convert every unit in the building to affordability.

Given elaborates on this business model in The Planning Report, where he also calls on state leaders to direct more funding to this purpose.

"Most operating housing stock is safe, decent, sanitary, and habitable—and a large portion of it is operated at below-market rates," he says. "Shouldn’t a significant portion of dedicated affordable housing funds be prioritized to ensure these units remain affordable?"

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