[AFFORDABLE HOUSING] Program Abuses Being Fixed, Officials Say

Facing criticisms from the city’s top accountant regarding the so-called “Density Bonus Program”—which incentivizes developers to include low and moderate income housing units in their market-rate projects in exchange for the city relaxing zoning codes—overseeing agency Los Angeles Housing + Community Investment Dept. (HCIDLA), say they have made improvements to stop abuses in the future.

The agency is responding to a report, released last January and authored by Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, which said the city’s program has been abused, including some instances of designated affordable housing units being leased for rents higher than allowed or to tenants whose income far exceed the program’s limits.

The city launched the Density Bonus Program in 2008 in response to a lack of affordable housing citywide.

According to Galperin’s report, the city is not only behind reaching its goal to establish 100,000 new units of affordable housing by 2021, but has also encountered program violations.

In an audit titled “Income-Restricted Affordable Housing Units in Los Angeles: A Review of the City’s Density Bonus Program and Overall Oversight,” Galperin analyzed the program’s inception through 2014.

In nearly 1,500 units studied—or slightly over 5%—landlords charged higher rents to tenants than allowed, while over 450 units had tenants whose income exceeded the program’s guidelines.

In more than two-thirds of those cases, tenant’s incomes exceeded the maximum allowed by $5,000, while one particular case revealed an income excess of $149,000.

The report also indicated the HCIDLA failed to verify tenant incomes in about 4% of all affordable units before tenants moved in.

“Better oversight tools are needed,” the report concluded.

James Nash, a Galperin spokesperson, emphasized in an interview the study’s criticisms related to a relatively small percentile of the nearly 1,500 units studied.

“I would point out that the controller’s audit found reasonably adequate monitoring and a 93% compliance rate with the terms and conditions of the Density Bonus Program,” he said.

He also added that the city controller does not expect remedies overnight.

HCIDLA Executive Officer Laura Guglielmo said too much weight has been heaved onto her department by the report.

“We think that programs that help these affordable housing projects get built are worth supporting, but we can’t expect one program to solve all of the city’s housing challenges,” Guglielmo said by e-mail.

Why there wasn’t tighter oversight of the program from the get-go boils down to too much city bureaucracy and too small a staff, according to officials.

“Oversight of a Density Bonus Program in a city as large as Los Angeles is extremely challenging and requires a great deal of communication and coordination between the developers and the city departments,” Guglielmo said. “It also requires adequate staffing.”

HCIDLA is currently short staffed by almost half, typically with about a dozen employees.

Guglielmo bristled at the notion that the percentage of violations found in the city controller’s report constitutes any sort of abuse of the program.

“Although we have identified and implemented necessary improvements, 100% compliance 100% of the time is not realistic and does not indicate abuse,” she said.

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