The Real West Hollywood: Tackling Need for Affordable Housing

Article excerpt

This is the eighth in a series of articles on the topics and issues that will be presented at the "Finding Solutions for the Challenges Facing Cities Today" Leadership Training Institute seminar scheduled for January 29-31 in Los Angeles.

When I tell people that I'm a councilmember in the City of West Hollywood, Calif., it usually invokes images of the Academy Award parties that are held annually in our city. Or maybe people think of the trendy hotels, nightclubs and restaurants that grace the Sunset Strip. Some people might even think of our Avenues of Arts and Design, featuring the hottest trends in home and office furnishings. People in the know might even visualize our exciting center of gay and lesbian nightlife. And sometimes people think of the swimming pools that adorn the large homes in our neighboring city, Beverly Hills.

Rarely, when people think of West Hollywood, do they think about poverty and the consequential need for affordable housing. But people who really know West Hollywood and our demographics understand the urgent housing needs some of our residents face.

In West Hollywood, nearly 80 percent of our residents are renters. Nearly 20 percent of our residents are over the age of 65, many of them living on fixed incomes and some living on the minimum amount from Social Security. We are also the center of the Russian immigrant community. Thirty-six percent of our population is foreign-born, the majority of which are from the countries of the former Soviet Union. Many of these immigrants live below the poverty level. In fact, we have 1,100 Section 8 certificate holders living in West Hollywood, most of them seniors and many of them immigrants.

In addition to our seniors and our immigrants, we are also a center of the gay community. Like other gay population centers, we were hard hit by the AIDS epidemic. Nearly 10 percent of our population is living with HIV or AIDS and a significant number of people are no longer able to work full time.

While these demographics produce a high demand for affordable housing, the housing market in West Hollywood, like all of Los Angeles County, is highly constrained, especially for affordable units. The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood is $1,507. For a 2-bedroom unit, the average rent is $1,956 and these are the older, rent-stabilized units, all of them at least 30 years old.

Preserving and expanding our supply of affordable housing has been a leading issue in the City of West Hollywood since we incorporated as a city in 1984. We recognized early on that no single approach would be effective to address the problem of housing affordability. Instead, we created a multi-pronged strategy. First, we enacted a rent control ordinance to limit annual increases and to provide maintenance standards for rental housing. We also regulated evictions to ensure that long-term tenants were only evicted for just cause.

Providing protections for in-place tenants does not create a new supply of affordable housing. …