Lots of Potential, Lots of Controversy

2018 Editions Front Page March News Philip Iglauer

Ten parking lots in Highland Park and one in Eagle Rock are among 119 public lots under review by the City as potential sites to build housing for the homeless and low-income tenants. 

There are no plans as yet to develop the sites in Highland Park and Eagle Rock, and such plans may never materialize. The City has not yet determined if the city-owned lots are suitable for housing and if a lot is approved, a motion from the City Council would be required to proceed. Community reaction will also affect what actually happens. 

A preview of the possible controversy to come is unfolding right next door, in Lincoln Heights, where plans are underway to construct apartment buildings on five city-owned lots on and near North Broadway, in the Lincoln Heights business district.

At a packed and boisterous meeting on Feb. 15, a majority of the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council voted to oppose the plan. Some opponents said the plan would put five homeless centers on the parking lot sites and that it was pushed through without any warning to residents. It would harm the business district and lower property values, they said. 

Gil Cedillo, the City Councilmember for Lincoln Heights, argued in a notice posted on his website that the plan to convert city-owned property into housing has been publicly underway since 2016 and so was not sprung on anyone. He said he does not support homeless-only apartment buildings, but rather envisions buildings that could mix affordable, workforce and market rate housing with “permanent supportive housing” for formerly homeless people that includes on-site case managers and clinicians to provide health and social services. 

Mr. Cedillo has scheduled a public meeting for Mar. 22 at 6 p.m. at the Lincoln Heights Senior Center to further discuss the housing plan with local residents and business owners. 

Here are some facts: The City’s plan to transform parking lots into housing has been reported in the L.A. Times and elsewhere at least as far back as  2016. Initially, the City had planned to use the sites for supportive housing only, but the recommendation released by the City Administrative Office in November 2016 said proposals could also include affordable and mixed income housing. 

At the Lincoln Heights  Neighborhood Council meeting, some opponents of the plan claimed  it would be against the law to build mixed-income apartment buildings with money from Prop. HHH, the $1.2 billion anti-homelessness fund that will be tapped to turn city property into housing. But Prop. HHH money need not be used only to house the homeless. It can be used to build housing for people who are in danger of becoming homeless, which could include low income renters at risk of eviction from rising rents. What is more, some of the Prop. HHH money can be used for affordable housing that does not come with supportive services for formerly homeless tenants. 

The Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council has objected to the City selecting developers for the parking lot projects without first soliciting neighborhood input. For its part, the City has required the developers it selected to seek community feedback.   

One of the developers chosen for the Lincoln Heights projects is WORKS, a nonprofit developer of affordable housing in Northeast Los Angeles. Channa Grace, the president and chief executive of WORKS, was recently quoted in the L.A. Times saying, “We’re looking to have robust outreach and get input from the community.” 

How those talks will go is anyone’s guess, but the portents are not good. The Coalition to Protect Lincoln Heights, a community group that opposes the plan to turn the parking lots into housing, is soliciting donations to raise money for a legal challenge to the City’s plan.

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