At Tuesday’s Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Kathryn Barger will introduce a motion, coauthored by Chair Hilda L. Solis, that looks to identify commercial property across the county that could be repurposed for critically needed temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness as well as for longterm affordable housing.
As many businesses have transitioned to telework, commercial spaces are left vacant. To address the persistent housing shortage and homelessness crisis, Barger’s motion aims to serve vulnerable residents while also supporting local businesses through innovative strategies to leverage public-private partnerships.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated problems for our most needy residents, but it has also presented us with creative new opportunities to serve them,” said Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley.
“One of the greatest challenges to providing shelter and housing for those experiencing homelessness is the time and funding it takes to build,” she said. “By utilizing existing property, we can meet the urgent housing needs of those on the street quickly and effectively.”
Because of closures to restaurants, gyms, retail stores, and hotels, companies are considering a future where they can downsize their physical footprints to reduce overhead costs and to offer more flexible work opportunities to their employees, which will in turn have consequences to the commercial real estate sector.
Commercial real estate not only supports multiple industries but also makes up a significant component of the local property tax base, which funds general services provided by the county. The Greater Los Angeles region has approximately 191,000 acres of commercially zoned land, as well as significant clusters of commercial corridors.
A report by UC Berkeley identifies a solution that benefits the sector while uplifting the local community.
“Allowing new homes and mixed-use projects to be built on these sites can serve as a catalyst for new economic growth while at the same time addressing California’s ongoing housing shortage,” the report reads. “This form of redevelopment also advances infill development goals, bringing residents closer to jobs, amenities, and transit, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions from personal automobile use.”
Los Angeles County has already taken concrete steps to streamline housing development and boost the production of housing across all income levels, including approving an ordinance in September 2020 that allows by-right mixed-use development projects in certain commercial zones.
If the motion is approved, the Board of Supervisors will direct the Chief Executive Officer, in coordination with the Los Angeles County Development Authority and the Department of Regional Planning, to assemble a list of underutilized commercial real estate properties suitable for interim and permanently affordable housing strategies and report back in 90 days.
Read the full motion here.