Los Angeles Looks to Alter Downtown Zoning to Increase Affordable Housing


LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles City Planning Department today released plans for an incentive-based zoning system for development projects planned for downtown to include more affordable housing units.

The new system would replace the existing program for the Transfer of Floor Area Rights, referred to as TFAR, with what City Planning called a “transparent'' Community Benefits Program.

“In years past, we relied almost exclusively on TFAR to spur affordable housing in downtown, but with mixed results,'' Director of Planning Vince Bertoni said. “With this program, we'll be able to standardize our existing requirements to ensure an equitable and fair distribution of affordable housing through a predictable and transparent process.''

TFAR allows developers to sell their floor area rights to other parcels, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy. In addition to floor area rights, some programs allow for the sale of height, housing units or parking units.

The Community Benefits Program is a centerpiece of the Downtown Community Plan update, envisioned to increase affordable housing opportunities across neighborhoods, includes an approval process that is simplified, standardized and fair, City Planning said.

Under the draft proposal, the Downtown Community Plan would rezone every parcel within its boundaries to accommodate Los Angeles's future housing and employment needs, more than doubling the land area currently eligible for housing.

Unlike the TFAR Program, which covers less than 25% of downtown, the proposed Community Benefits Program would expand housing, including permanent supportive and affordable housing, to about 60% of the plan area, City Planning said.

The proposal includes a new base and bonus system for downtown, intended to establish a clearer set of objective standards for projects that wish to build beyond their base zoning.

All future project applicants will have to adhere to these standards, City Planning said.

To exceed a project's base floor area, developers will need to set aside a specified amount of units as affordable.

A new category for affordable housing has also been developed to tie the proposed policies of the Downtown Community Plan to the stated goals of the Community Benefits System, including a “deeply low-income'' category for those who earn less than 15% of the area median income, which is $0 to $15,000 for a household of four.

City Planning stated that by including the minimum prescribed affordable housing, a project will be eligible for a 35% increase in floor area.

Additional incentives are also available for projects that provide neighborhood-serving amenities, such as open space and childcare facilities, but they must still set aside a number of units as affordable.

City Planning also said the Community Benefits Program would replace a “lengthy and complicated'' process for reviewing individual project appraisals with a straightforward set of approvals that would apply the same rules to each project.

Following a public hearing scheduled for later this fall, the proposed Community Benefits System and the final staff recommendation on the proposed update to the Downtown Community Plan will advance to the City Planning Commission for its consideration.

The draft Downtown Community Plan can be found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iAh7MQ1Zq4e5eW1XiPFnx2AxAdiPa0sB/view.

Photo: Getty Images


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