The City of Los Angeles may soon find itself in court to defend a long-standing policy that allows individual city council members to quietly block affordable and supportive housing developments without having to provide a reason. Public Counsel, Rosen Bien Galvan and Grunfeld LLP, and the Public Interest Law Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment on July 26. The lawsuit asserts that the requirement that the council member for the district where the affordable housing is proposed issue a “Letter of Acknowledgement” (LOA) is an illegal and unnecessary barrier to affordable housing development that disproportionately harms low income people of color and people with disabilities. The LOA is only required for supportive and affordable housing that receives public funding, and not for market rate developments.
More than almost any other city in the nation, Los Angeles suffers from a lack of affordable and accessible homes connected to services that can address the growing homelessness crisis. According to the most recent count released by the city, more than 31,000 people in Los Angeles are homeless on any given night. Los Angeles voters recognize the urgency of finding solutions, demonstrated by their overwhelming vote to pass Proposition HHH in November, 2016, to provide $1.2 billion for 10,000 new supportive housing units. Developers applying to use these and other funds to produce new affordable housing are often finding their project proposals stopped, stalled, or altered when the city councilmember refuses to issue the LOA. Projects that do not get a signed LOA are not eligible for funding.
Among the issues highlighted in the lawsuit is that there are scarce public records of how and when proposals are deemed insufficient, because the LOA process occurs outside of the public eye. The Los Angeles Times has conducted significant reporting on the LOA process and found a wide range of reasons city council members would block proposals, but the Times reporters needed to open records requests to uncover these examples. City council members have blocked proposals based on design elements, bedroom sizes, or lack of certain amenities. Council members have also used the LOA to leverage changes to proposed developments and to exert influence over the agencies advancing the proposals.
For their part, council members assert that the LOA is a critical part of the oversight process. Numerous members have stated publicly that the LOA provides elected leaders with an opportunity to weigh in at the beginning of the process and to seek expanded input from neighborhood stakeholders. Advocates contend that council members can be notified early on without also having the power of a pocket-veto to block proposed developments.
The lawsuit is not the only challenge to the LOA process—state legislators are taking action as well. Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) has introduced Assembly Bill 829 to ban any local process that requires an LOA or similar approval letter from a political office when a project would receive state funds. AB829 would only apply to state-funded projects, however, and it is likely that projects seeking only Proposition HHH or other local funds would still be subject to the LOA process.
Read the legal complaint at: https://bit.ly/2KqOHMm