Clashes over multifamily housing developments will increase and get more heated. Can social responsibility prevail?
Lena Katz: Developers are typically cast in the villain role when they appear in a neighborhood with plans to tear down single-family homes and historic abandoned buildings for new construction high-rises. But thanks to the aforementioned affordable housing crisis, it's not so clear who's on the right side ethically anymore.
This year, the Governor of California stepped in to override single-family zoning, and the supposedly progressive homeowners in LA and the Bay Area's wealthy communities rallied to resist transit-oriented community (TOC) development, higher-density development, or anything else that could provide a solution to low- and mid-income demographics.
It's pretty clear that change must come but hard to say who the heroes are in this story that's unfolding in localities across the nation. For example, in Los Angeles, where TOC incentives have inspired a flurry of new development, you see a mix of true innovators looking to create solutions, longtime multifamily investors and developers testing small projects that are in the spirit of the program, and luxury condo developers allocating the bare minimum of extremely low-income units to qualify for the incentives.
Some cities are pulling together in hopes of a more socially equitable future, though. Just look at the boom in Newark, where Mayor Ras Baraka's 2017 ordinance "Inclusionary Zoning for Affordable Housing" has protected its vulnerable communities while still keeping the welcome mat out for tech communities, multifamily developers, and a $2.7 billion airport renovation.
So, my prediction is that we'll see many more bitter fights between NIMBY factions and their own elected representatives -- as well as justified outrage in gentrifying areas from low-income community members who are being displaced.
But my other prediction -- which is also a hope -- agrees with Liz's. Smart investors will turn away from luxury multifamily and identify the opportunity in socially responsible development. Whether that means working with community members in Opportunity Zones to figure out adaptive reuse projects to benefit whole neighborhoods or finding a path to bring workforce housing into affluent areas, savvy investors at any level should realize that a community can't thrive sustainably unless its workforce has adequate shelter within their means.