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72% Of LA's Residential Area Isn't Included In Pending Affordable Housing Plan

As Los Angeles plans to update the housing guidelines that dictate where new homes can be built, affordability advocates have noticed something they find troubling: The plan leaves out nearly three-quarters of the residential portion of the city. 

That is because the city’s plan leaves out land zoned for single-family homes, which make up 72% of LA’s residential area.

The city seems to be on track to keep it that way, but a coalition of about 40 organizations that work on housing issues are pushing to change things. They want the city to open up more single-family areas for multifamily development by changing the zoning during the state-mandated housing element update process. 


"It's going to be complex, and I think it's a fight worth fighting," Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing Public Policy Manager Tiffany Spring told Bisnow. "We cannot solve the housing crisis, the affordable housing crisis or the homelessness crisis unless we can, at a baseline, change the way that zoning works." 

The city expects to hold a public hearing about the housing plan sometime this summer, but no firm date has been established.

The wide spread between single-family and multifamily zoning has created “clear disparities in housing access throughout the City,” the city planning department has said, putting a velvet rope in front of areas with the highest concentrations of jobs, public transit access and top schools that keeps more affordable forms of housing out. 

However, after public feedback gathered in mid-2023 and “direction” from the Los Angeles City Council, the planning department has done an about-face. 

Single-family zones are not eligible for affordable housing incentives the city is planning, with some exceptions for projects proposed by and on land owned by religious organizations. They are also left out of a transit-focused incentive package for affordable housing, the planning department said in an October note. 

In a letter to the planning department, the Inner City Law Center and 40 other signatories expressed unease at the city’s plans for its housing future.  

Adding more incentives to commercial areas or parts of the city where apartment projects are already allowed won’t help the city meet the ambitious housing targets it needs to, the letter said. According to the California Regional Housing Needs Assessment, Los Angeles needs to add more than 450,000 housing units by 2029. 

Additionally, by keeping single-family zones walled off to other types of housing and incentivizing new multifamily projects in the fraction of the city where they are already allowed, the city is promoting “displacement of rent-controlled tenants while reinforcing existing segregationist patterns,” the letter said. 

It’s frustrating to see homeowners’ interests being so heavily prioritized in a city where nearly 64% of residents are renters, Inner City Law Center Director of Public Policy Mahdi Manji said. 

“You’re saying the rights of these homeowners to live in a single-family home is more important than the rights of people to live in a home at all,” Manji said. 


The planning department is aware of both the sanctity of single-family residential areas and the need to push for a reexamination of that untouchability. 

In its October note about the interplay between the city’s efforts to update its housing element and rezone the city and existing single-family housing areas, the planning department said it had attempted to include some areas where single-family zones could be made available for multifamily housing in early versions of their plans, “with the intent to allow for a public dialogue among Angelenos on the types of housing opportunities they’d like to see on land historically restricted to low-density residential uses.” 

The department also sought to explore how and where affordable housing might best fit into so-called high-resource neighborhoods where desirable amenities are clustered, the department said in its note. 

Those in the development community who spoke with Bisnow agreed that making more land open to multifamily development in the city would remove one hurdle to build more housing and noted that it was likely the only way to hit the mandated housing goals the city will be on the hook for. 

But there are a number of other hurdles between new housing projects and the finish line, including high interest rates and construction costs, relatively flat rents and even Measure ULA, said CBRE Executive Vice President Dean Zander, who specializes in multifamily investment sales.

Others in the development community noted that, in their experience, housing is already challenging to build where it should theoretically be allowed.  

“I do think, sometimes, the discussion of single-family zoning versus multifamily zoning is a little bit of a red herring,” Cityview CEO Sean Burton said, pointing to challenges to proposed projects in the form of slow approvals, pushback from community members and regulations like the California Environmental Quality Act that are often weaponized to delay or derail development. Projects may still face these challenges even if zoning allows for them on paper. 

“Making more land available wouldn't hurt, but it's not a panacea,” Burton said.