The desire to build thousands of new apartments in Los Angeles for the chronically homeless is meeting stiff opposition. As projects become specific, the difficulties of building in a politically charged and heavily regulated market are becoming apparent.
In Boyle Heights, property owners are objecting to construction of about 50 affordable housing apartments for the homeless and mentally ill. The development is proposed next to a family oriented market and restaurant on a lot that has been vacant for years. The proposed housing is what was envisioned with the City’s ¼ cent sales tax increase and the $1.2 billion bond voters approved for homeless housing.
The project has been stuck for nearly a year in committee waiting for a vote to overturn an appeal by the owners of the neighboring business. They have used one of California’s most powerful regulatory challenges to development, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), to stymie the project. CEQA gives broad power to anyone to object and force costly delays on development. It was enacted as a means to protect the environment and is one of the toughest environmental protections in the country.
CEQA has been used for decades by attorneys, labor unions, environmentalists, and anyone else hoping to extract payments from developers in exchange for allowing projects to move forward. Now, it’s being used to thwart the desires of the city to provide housing for the homeless.
CEQA’s ability to turn developer’s dreams into nightmares may be part of the reason that a San Francisco Assembly member has introduced legislation to speed up the approval process for housing for the homeless. Phil Ting is working on legislation to address the delays state and local regulations place on building housing for homeless people. His bill would give cities like San Francisco the power to ignore state and local building, health, and other regulations in order to build shelters and homeless housing.
Ting’s bill is one of a slew of efforts that hope to streamline regulations to meet California’s shortage of housing. In fact, Ting’s San Francisco colleague, Assembly Member Scott Weiner, writes persuasively that the struggle between regulations and the market hurts low-income people the most.