“Make a deal, make a difference” was the apt theme of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Los Angeles’ 18th annual Urban Marketplace conference and expo, which featured a broad range of topics having to do with the convergence of policy, partnerships and equity. The conference, held on March 28th, 2018 at The MacArthur in Los Angeles, attracted a large crowd of city officials, architects, developers, and dealmakers to network and discuss real estate investment opportunities and development strategies for LA’s future.
Urban Marketplace 2018 opened with a plenary session devoted to questions of how city planners and economic developers can achieve equity in real estate development in Los Angeles to reduce disparities and ensure residents of all incomes, races, and ethnicities participate in and benefit from decisions that shape the places where they live. Moderator Robin Hughes, president & CEO of Abode Communities, declared that “equity is the new buzzword for 2018.” In agreement, Los Angeles City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson told attendees, “our society is struggling to achieve equity in public investment…in private investment the problem is even more challenging. We must be creative in our approaches. Equity has to be a regional question, not just addressed neighborhood by neighborhood.”
The rise in income inequality in the U.S. is not just a challenge for struggling Americans. “Research has shown a strong correlation between equity and improved economic performance; racial inclusion and income equality are key components of growth in a region,” said Vanessa Carter, senior data analyst with the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), citing 2012’s Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity. Expressing hope that equity would not be a “one-year buzzword,” Carter noted “LA developed in a way that produced regional disparities, such as segregation by race, segregation by income, segregation by amenities such as parks.” She emphasized the need for community activism and concerted efforts by all city departments working together, unlike the siloed modus operandi.
“One good policy solution is public/private partnerships,” said Bradley T. Cox, senior managing director with Trammell Crow Co. “The critical component is community involvement, and developers need to reach out to local communities where they are planning a project.” Calling Trammel Crow a community-based developer, Cox cited its efforts on several major projects to meet with households and engage the community to understand the new development and the jobs and community-based opportunities that accompany such a project.
“How can we create a balance where private investment benefits everyone, with none excluded or displaced?” asked Hughes. City Councilmember Harris-Dawson noted, “A major weakness of our economy is that it is based on speculation about profit, as opposed to overall community benefit. One solution is inclusionary zoning, under new state law designed to promote construction of new affordable housing.” In his district, Harris-Dawson said, 900 affordable housing units have been entitled, more than in any other LA district.
Following the keynote session, attendees at Urban Marketplace could choose from a wide variety of roundtable workshops focused on different aspects of the larger theme, from transit-oriented communities and the projects of LA Metro, to mobility and public transportation, to the implications of new legislation on the built environment. One fruitful theme of a series of roundtables was affordable housing, shedding light on some new and creative solutions to address the increasingly dire housing crisis in LA and beyond.
One roundtable was devoted to untangling the multiple bills, legislative efforts and barriers to building urban infill housing in California that can be confusing and present challenges to local governments and developers of urban housing projects. Elizabeth A. Camacho, senior counsel with Loeb & Loeb, and Chris Tourtelotte, managing director, Acquisitions & Capital Markets for La Tierra Development, focused on two important California laws. The Housing Accountability Act (HAA) is designed to hold local governments accountable for their own housing development policies and general plans when they review individual projects. “The HAA has teeth—enforcement and penalties—for non-compliance,” said Tourtelotte. “If your jurisdiction downsizes your project, and you don’t comply, you can incur fines.” Strengthened by further legislation over the years, today the HAA is receiving more attention from advocates of increased housing production. Second, SB 35 requires local jurisdictions that are not meeting their Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) goals to streamline and expedite the approval process for eligible housing projects. Only 12 California cities and counties have currently met their goals; 377 others are currently subject to SB 35 streamlining.
Innovative housing alternatives generated a lot of interest from attendees. A discussion of multifamily trends drew attention to the innovative “Co-Living Option for Workforce Housing.” Brigitte Farrer, VP of Common, a co-living company, and designer Patrick Tighe, FAIA, of Patrick Tighe Architecture, discussed shared, co-living units as a housing solution for a large demographic: single people living with others in cities. Neither a traditional apartment rental nor a boarding house, a co-living unit, operated by Common, feels like sharing an apartment. Farrer explained that Common manages the property, and all of the tenants are on one lease. Common particularly benefits newcomers by helping them find partners for co-living in high quality buildings. Tenants also have a full wish list of included amenities, such as weekly professional cleaning of shared spaces, kitchen staples, laundry supplies, WiFi, and ease of transferring to other Common accommodations.
Another workshop focused on the innovative method of construction of housing from recycled and new shipping containers. Keith Labus, AIA LEED AP, a principal of KTGY Architecture + Planning, and Scott Baldridge, president of Aedis Real Estate, described their joint project, a four-story, 84-unit, modular homeless housing development in downtown LA’s Westlake District, constructed primarily out of locally sourced shipping containers. “Housing built of shipping containers is easier and can go much more quickly to market. We use 85 percent recycled containers, and also work with the largest manufacturers of shipping containers, who build pre-wired and customized containers offsite in China and transport them to the U.S.,” said Baldridge. “Construction sites can store fewer materials onsite—it takes only 11 minutes to offload a container from a truck—and construction can begin during the entitlement process.” The well-designed units are small, but fully functional.
ULI LA’s Urban Marketplace also included a discussion of a vision that is making a tremendous, positive difference to LA’s future: the renewal and restoration of the lower Los Angeles River. A workshop focused on efforts and plans for revitalizing the lower LA River and the gateway cities along its banks. Teresa Villegas, Environmental/Public Works deputy representing the office of Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors member Hilda Solis (1st district), and Mark Stanley, executive officer of the San Gabriel & Lower LA Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, brought attendees up to date on the achievements of the Lower LA River Working Group, which was formed by AB 530 in 2015. The working group finished its revitalization plan five months ago after careful consultation with the affected communities. “The unique achievement of the working group was its community engagement,” said Stanley. “Members of communities—not professionals, not consultants—told the group about all of the issues that are important to them, from concerns about gentrification and displacement to desire for open spaces, and economic development in low-income cities.” The working group balanced competing interests with community demands, and thereby planned the funding for improvement projects. “The revitalization is an opportunity for disadvantaged communities to leverage funding, including park and water funding from Proposition 68, a bond issue that will come before voters in June’ said Villegas. “The next step is the approval and signing of the guiding document for the city of LA.”
This article was written by Nadene Gallagher of Lauter + Gallagher.