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Affordable Housing Solutions Lie In Streamlining Process, Increasing Resources

Los Angeles has been hit by the housing crisis that is widespread throughout California, and an additional 1 million residents are expected in LA in the coming years.

Abode Communities President and CEO Robin Hughes sees the steps cities and the state are taking to improve access to housing, but as the director of a nonprofit devoted to affordable housing, she also sees where those efforts fall short.

Abode Communities President and CEO Robin Hughes

"My hardest challenge is when I receive an email with the subject 'Desperate Mama' from a woman whose husband and children have been living in different cities because she can't find housing, and we can't help her because we have no vacancies and waiting lists that extend several years," she said.

"I, and Abode Communities, are deeply committed to ensure all Californians have access to a safe, affordable place to call home, yet we desperately need the resources and tools to continue this important work."

In the past year, LA residents have voted on ballot measures to help fight homelessness and increase housing affordability, Hughes said. She said Measure H and Proposition HHH, both passed by LA voters, should provide much-needed public resources to build permanent housing and the social services that go hand in hand with physical housing to keep people out of homelessness.

Hughes said an affordable home is a stabilizing force, but there needs to be a social safety net to help people stay in their homes and achieve economic mobility. Abode Communities provides resident services toward that end in its developments.

She is also hopeful that efforts at the state level will increase funding and encourage local governments to build more affordable housing — making it faster and more attractive to approve projects that include affordable housing. In some cases, the state bills remove land-use decisions from the local governments if the projects meet existing zoning requirements.

Adding back inclusionary housing requirements for new development (something that a 2009 state appeals court ruling made difficult for many cities to pursue) creates another way to increase affordable housing. Those two bills, SB 35 and AB 1505, could increase housing production throughout California by 14,000 new affordable homes each year, she said.

"While all of these initiatives will go a long way to assist with new housing production, they are not sufficient to address the gap between the supply and need for affordable housing," she said. "In order to increase affordable housing production in Los Angeles, additional funding is required to build apartments for working families who are one paycheck or a single financial hardship away from becoming homeless or living in overcrowded conditions."

She supports LA's plans for a linkage fee that would provide more revenue for the city's affordable housing fund. She said the city also needs to find ways to expedite the production of high-density affordable housing, especially along transit corridors.

Rendering of the La Veranda community, developed in partnership between Abode Communities and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

As more housing is built, more cars place an increased burden on the city's infrastructure, she said.

"Locating housing adjacent to transit reduces everyday vehicular traffic and provides opportunities for low-income families and individuals to better access jobs, receive specialized services and access affordable education that may be located in different geographic areas of the county," Hughes said.

She mentioned Abode Communities' partnership with the LA Metro at La Veranda to create a better link between affordable housing and transit. When that project is complete, it will have 77 affordable homes and 8K SF of retail near the Gold Line Soto station in Boyle Heights, an underserved community.

"It's a win for all," she said.

Hughes said Abode's goal is to double its residential portfolio throughout California by 2020, providing homes and access to social services to more than 9,000 low-income residents. The organization will spend the coming decade continuing to look for new ways to make affordable housing less expensive to develop and own and to speed production, including through influencing policy to get more homes to families and individuals, she said.

"My greatest joy is when I visit our properties and speak with the residents to hear the amazing stories about how our work has transformed their lives: stories from those who have escaped homelessness, families with young children who are performing better in school thanks to our after-school program, seniors who no longer worry about being pushed out on the street, or the young adult who has transitioned out of foster care with a tremendous sense of pride with the key in hand to her very first home," she said.

Hughes will be recognized as one of our Bisnow Los Angeles Power Women on Dec. 13 at Bank of America Plaza in Los Angeles.