City Council voted Monday night to have city staff explore ways to help apartment owners renovate and refurbish their aging apartment buildings.
The item introduced by Councilman John D’Amico would have staff explore financial assistance programs for upgrades and renovations offered by the state and federal government, as well as local nonprofits and utilities.
Citing studies showing it costs more to build new apartment buildings than to rehabilitate existing ones, D’Amico said it would help reduce the city’s carbon footprint by making buildings greener. He also said studies show renovating existing buildings would create more jobs than constructing new buildings does.
“The majority of small business owners in West Hollywood are apartment owners,” said D’Amico. “This would help with the sad deterioration of our housing stock.”
The Council was in favor of the idea. “We all support the idea of having our housing stock improved," said Councilman John Heilman.
Affordable Housing Trust Fund money
Another aspect of D’Amico’s proposal met with resistance. D’Amico proposed using money from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for low-interest loans for apartment rehabilitation.
Councilwoman Abbe Land was adamantly opposed to diverting any of the “precious funds” for affordable housing, even if it was for renovations. Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Prang also expressed trepidation about the idea.
Heilman was also opposed, worrying about apartment owners using such a loan to renovate a building and then turning around and using the Ellis Act to empty the building. He said safeguards would be needed to protect tenants.
Despite those reservations, the Council agreed to have staff study the idea, D’Amico pointing out that just because they explore it does not mean the Council has to adopt it.
Another of D’Amico’s ideas was to increase the in lieu fee developers pay into the Trust Fund when they opt not to include affordable units in new buildings. Currently the in lieu fee is $11.51 per square foot of livable area of the entire project
“We’ve never had in lieu fees that matched the cost of construction,” said D’Amico, suggesting a more appropriate fee would be closer to $200 per square foot.
Council agreed that the in lieu fee should likely be increased and agreed to have staff investigate it.
Afterward, D’Amico told Weho Patch, “I’m glad my colleagues have agreed to move many of these items forward. We need to fix our housing. Much of our rent controlled housing is in dire straits. It’s time for us to take some action. It’s well past time.”
Repeal Ellis Act and Costa-Hawkins Act
In a related matter, the Council also approved a proposal by Land and Heilman to have the city’s lobbyist in Sacramento try to get legislators to repeal the Ellis Act and the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act.
The Ellis Act allows landlords to evict all the tenants from a building and go out of the rental housing business. The Costa-Hawkins Act allows a landlord to increase the rent on a rent-stabilized unit to market rates after a tenant vacates a unit.
D’Amico questioned the purpose of lobbying for something that has no chance of passing given the current make-up of the legislature in Sacramento.
Land acknowledged it was unlikely to pass, but important to try nonetheless.
“I think we owe it to our residents to ask for things we know won’t happen, but we do it anyway,” said Land.