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With the backing of affordable housing advocates and organized labor, more than 63 percent of voters in the City of Los Angeles cast ballots in favor of Measure JJJ on November 8.

Proponents of the ballot initiative, which was also known as Build Better L.A., have argued that it will provide a critical pipeline of affordable housing at a time of skyrocketing rents across the city.  Its detractors have countered by arguing that certain components of the measure, such as its prevailing wage mandate, would actually put a damper on overall housing production.

While the eventual effects of JJJ may still be up for debate, it has nonetheless become the law of the land.  So, besides the strict requirements for prevailing wage labor, exactly what is now required of developers?

Rental Projects

For any rental development requiring a general plan amendement, zone change or height district change to allow a 35% or greater increase in density over current zoning, the developer must:

  1. Set aside a minimum of 5% of total units for extremely low income households.
  2. Set aside either:
    1. 6% of total units for very low income households.
    2. 15% of total units at rents affordable to lower Income households, inclusive of replacement units

For rental developments requiring a general plan amendment, a zone change or a height district change to allow residential construction where not previously allowed, the developer must:

  1. Set aside 5% of total units for extremely low income households
  2. Set aside either:
    1. 11% of total units for very low income households
    2. 20% of total units for lower income households, inclusive of replacement units

For-Sale Projects

For any for-sale development requiring a general plan amendment, zone change or height district change change to allow a 35% or greater increase in density, or residential uses where not previously allowed, the developer must:

  1. Set aside either:
    1. 11% of total units for very low income households.
    2. 20% of total units for lower income households.
    3. 40% of units for moderate income households, inclusive of replacement units.

Applicable to Both Rental and For-Sale Projects

For projects offering a mixture of for-sale and rental units, the rental provisions apply to the rental component of the development, while the for-sale provisions apply to the for-sale component.

The ballot measure also allows for alternate compliance options for developers who wish to opt against providing on-site affordable units.

Alternate Compliance Options

A project may satisfy the above affordability provisions through off-site construction under the following criteria:

  • Build the same amount of affordable housing as would be required on-site at a location with ½ mile of the project site.
  • Build 1.25 times the amount of affordable housing that would be required on-site at a location within 2 miles of the project site.
  • Build 1.5 times the amount of affordable housing that would be required on-site at a location within 3 miles of the project site.

Any off-site construction must be located on a property zoned for residential development at a density capable of accommodating the required number of units.

A certificate of occupancy for the off-site units must be issued either concurrently or earlier than that of the original development.

The off-site affordable units created through the project are forbidden from relying on Federal, state or local subsidies.  Subsidies may only be used with written permission from the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department to increase the affordability of units beyond what is now required under Measure JJJ.

A developer may also satisfy the affordability provisions of Measure JJJ by acquiring at-risk affordable units and converting them to non-profit, Community Land Trust, and/or tenant ownership prior to the issuance of the certificate of occupancy for the original development.  The criteria for this options reads as follows:

  • The same number of on-site affordable units at the same affordability levels required for on-site construction if acquired within ½ mile of the project site.
  • 1.25 times the number of required on-site affordable units at the same cost points if acquired within 1 mile of the project site.
  • 1.5 times the number of required on-site affordable units at the same cost points if acquired within 2 miles of the project site.

Developers may also satisfy the affordability provisions through an in-lieu payment to the City of Los Angeles.  The fee will be equivalent to 1.1 times the required amount of on-site affordable units, multiplied by an affordability gap that is to be determined by a study which will be produced by the City of Los Angeles and adjusted on a biennial basis.

The fee will be paid into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, concurrent with and proportional to project phases.  Developers may also defer payment for a surcharge to the time of issuance for the certificate of occupancy.

These funds will go towards the development of preservation of affordable housing within a half-mile of major transit stops.

All affordable units will be subject to a minimum 55-year covenant, or longer if the project receives subsidies.  These developments are still eligibile for density bonus incentives, and entitled for expedited processing by the Department of City Planning.

The Los Angeles City Council can adjust the affordable housing percentages now required due to Measure JJJ with substantial evidence that adjustments are needed to maximize affordable housing while still ensuring a reasonable return-on-investment for developers.

Waviers may also be granted for individual projects if a developer can prove that compliance with the law would violate their constitutional rights.

Transit Oriented Communities Affordable Housing Incentive Program

Another component of Measure JJJ is its Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) Affordable Housing Incentive Program, which applies to all housing developments located within a half-mile radius of major transit stops.

The TOC program, which must be implemented via ordinance through the Planning Department, would offer incentives for projects featuring on-site affordable units under one of the following scenarios:

  • 11% of total units for very low income households.
  • 20% of total units for low income households.
  • 7% of total units for extremely low income households.

The calculation of the required affordable units will be based on the total final project unit count, with any fraction rounded up to the next whole number.

TOC Incentives will include:

  • Residential density increase at or greater than 35%, including adjustments to minimum square feet per dwelling units and floor area ratio.
  • Reductions to required on-site parking, in accordance with density bonus incentives.
  • Various other concessions in accordance with California's density bonus law.

The TOC guidelines and incentives are to be reviewed by the City Planning Commission prior to implementation.  Any adjustments to incentives and required affordability percentages can be adjusted through Community Plan updates, Transit Neighborhood Plans or Specific Plans, as long as the required on-site affordable units are not reduced. 

All provisions of JJJ will remain in full force and effect for 10 years from the effective date of the Ordinance, unless amended or repealed by vote.  Council may re-enact the provisions for two successive periods of five years, but they will otherwise expire and any project approved under the provisions of the ordinance prior to expiration shall proceed as thereby approved.

Apartments under construction in Historic Filipinotown (Image: Michael Hayes)

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The latest project, located at 6845-6855 N. Figueroa Street, would replace three existing houses with eight new residences.