Could Downtown Reno learn from another City's radical plan?

Let me introduce you to L.A.'s radical plan to transform their concrete jungle of a downtown into a thriving park-like setting with tons of trees, residential towers and a 16-acre park anchoring it all. The 2+ billion dollar project is already approved by the City Council, and will include over 2,600 new residential units built. Before I tell you the more radical part, let's look at the plan:

It's a massive endeavor, and impressive, but not anything out of the ordinary. However, what is unique about it is it's incorporation of affordable housing into the mix of things.

20% of the roughly 2600 units must be "affordable". A minimum of half of these units (10% of all housing units) will be restricted to moderate-income households (not more than 80% of Area Median Income [“AMI”]), and the other half (10% of all housing units) to low-income households (not more than 50% of AMI). The income and rent restrictions will be recorded and remain in effect for a minimum of 45 years for ownership units and 55 years for rental units from the date of initial occupancy of the Project. To give you an idea of how inexpensive these units could be, the median household income of zip code 90012 (neighborhood the projects will be going) is $21,952.

As proposed, this means 520 affordable housing units and rentals. For Phase I, the affordable units will be rental housing, with 35% at Extremely Low Income (35% AMI) and 65% at Very Low Income (50% AMI or below) levels. Keep in mind this isn't in some dive area of L.A., this is directly downtown, surrounded by all the other 13 districts of downtown L.A. that will also be experiencing a surge.

So in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, right next to the Disney Performing Arts theater and all the hustle and bustle of Bunker Hill, over 500 families and individuals who might not otherwise be able to afford to live downtown, are able to, and in the mix of things as this area is built up and redeveloped those residents will be living side by side with condominiums sold at market rate values.

Since I am not an urban planner, I would love to get some opinions and commentary on if this is a good idea or bad idea, and if it's something downtown Reno could take the lead in by mandating affordable housing units be built downtown alongside the Palladio, Wingfield Towers, Montage etc. The risk of course is you open yourself up to increased crime if the wrong kind of people take residence in those units....the benefit would be you implant people downtown who couldn't otherwise afford to live downtown. Those people more often than not would probably also work downtown. For instance, workers at City Hall, the Federal Building, all the new retail shops, the courthouses and all the other government buildings flanking Grand Ave in L.A. could live downtown AND work downtown, thus lowering commute time, and improving the environment. Our downtown workers would probably jump at the chance of also living downtown in their own purchased affordable unit. I read an article somehwere that showed some 20,000+ people work in downtown Reno.


Post your comments
Posted by: Diane R - 4/3/2007 1:55:40 PM
I question the framework of putting ultra-low income housing interdispersed among $500,000+ condo residences. These low-income residents won't be able to afford the entertainment offered downtown at the various arts centers and new retail malls. In other cities, when you cram 500 or more low income residents together into a 2 to 3 block radius, they are called 'projects', high crime areas, and Los Angeles thinks this is a good idea for the center of their town?

Posted by: Ken - 4/3/2007 3:05:49 PM
Diane, the difference is that in other cities, in the past, the technique was to kick poor people out of their homes in stable neighborhoods and move them into projects where only poor people lived, and where there were no services. These became the ghetto. When you mix a variety of income levels and lifestyles in an urban setting there is a net benefit. Service industry jobs are required to keep a downtown running and being able to locate the workers near their jobs eases transportation concerns. Wealthy and middle class people build the institutions of community involvement and upkeep and drive the creation of cultural and economic activities for everyone involved. This is not "the projects" by any stretch of the imagination and LA is not alone in requiring a percentage of units in downtown projects be affordable -- Seattle and other cities are also doing the same.