City, county play politics with affordable housing


“Affordable housing” is mostly a myth in the Conejo/Las Virgenes valleys.

There was a time in Calabasas when builders and governments worked together to provide inexpensive apartment homes for qualified families. Sadly, the arrangement has come to an end. In 1988, before the incorporation of Calabasas, the County of Los Angeles granted Lincoln Malibu Meadows permission to build an apartment complex in what is now the city’s west side. In return for the entitlement, the developer was required to rent 80 of its 600 units at an affordable (nonmarket) rate for a period of 30 years.

The mandate for the low-cost apartments expired last year, and tenants saw their rent for a two-bedroom jump from approximately $1,620 to $2,800 a month.

Thanks to the affordable offering, families with limited means have been able to live and work in the community and send their children to local schools. It’s been an excellent program—and we saw what happened three years ago when the rent-reduced housing at nearby Malibu Canyon Apartments similarly expired and left hundreds of longtime residents without a place to live, and their lives disrupted.

Virginia-based AvalonBay Communities, now the owner of the Lincoln property, has offered to continue the affordable option, but there’s a catch: The owner wants permission to build 160 additional units at the apartment complex on Las Virgenes Road that can be rented at full market value. Fearful of going through what they see as an expensive and cumbersome city planning process—with no guarantee that their new construction would even be approved—Avalon wants to bypass the hand of the city and put the matter to a public vote. Circumventing municipal planning is never a good thing. City planners serve to protect the public against construction impacts that can hurt.

Nobody knows the importance of planning oversight better than Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, whose district includes Calabasas. Her office enforces development restrictions in the county all the time, a cost of construction that has contributed in its own way to the current rental market insanity. Yet Kuehl has recommended Avalon bypass Calabasas city approval, build its new units, and do so with impunity.

To Kuehl’s credit, her office procured a cache of public funds that helped the Avalon tenants remain in their apartments until a new deal is struck. The difference between affordable and market-rate units is more than $1,000 a month, and the gap funding proved to be a lifesaver for these tenants.

We believe Avalon should be allowed to build their new apartments—even though the city may object—and continue offering the 80 affordable units. At the same time, the city should be allowed to oversee the new project, perhaps even scaling down the development.

This is no time for hubris and playing politics over housing. The market-rate units and affordable units are both sorely needed.

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