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Affordable and Permanent Supportive Housing Land Banking
Studies of comparable projects to those envisioned in the LA River Master Plan have shown that improvements to the public realm are often accompanied by adjacent increases in land and housing prices. This can potentially increase the risk of displacement of existing residents and can change the composition of communities.
One way that the county can gain the benefits of an improved river corridor while retaining the composition of existing communities is to proactively create more permanently affordable housing along the river – either by preserving existing lower cost housing or by building new affordable housing before improvements to the river are made. Locations of new permanently affordable housing should take into account flood risk, air quality, and other environmental conditions. A clear lesson from other communities is that once parks and other improvements are completed it becomes very difficult to secure sites for affordable housing – both because prices rise dramatically and because competition for these sites increases. In Atlanta, Chicago, and Austin, researchers found property values increasing most rapidly in the years before improvements were constructed.
The LA River Master Plan calls for the creation of a land bank or similar entity to purchase land along the river while it is still inexpensive and hold it for eventual sale or lease to developers of affordable housing. Funding for preserving or building affordable housing and permanent supportive housing is limited. Even if LA County were to earmark a share of its annual affordable housing funding for river-adjacent projects, it would only cover a handful of projects each year. Over time, rising land values along the river could make it more difficult to find and fund projects. An investment today in land banking, on the other hand, could create a pipeline of sites ready for future affordable housing when funding becomes available.
Most land banks are quasi-public agencies formed by one or more local government agencies. Some are independent, nonprofit agencies funded by local governments. In communities with a surplus of land, land banks generally receive and hold tax delinquent properties and use public financing to acquire vacant properties. They then hold the properties while working toward eventual redevelopment or sale. Generally, a land bank pays no property tax on land it holds. Some land banks are passive stewards of land that will eventually be sold, while others play a very active role in identifying future uses, engaging communities in planning for reuse, and putting together development deals for sites they hold.
There are over 179 land banks in the United States. Many were formed in postindustrial communities to activate vacant and abandoned properties. But a growing number of communities are now using land banks to reserve land for affordable and supportive housing.
Many land banks have played some role in redeveloping sites for use as affordable housing, but a number of land banks have been formed specifically for that purpose.
Opportunities for Affordable and Permanent Supportive Housing
Land Banking Methodology
The methodology for land banking in the LA River Master Plan involves considerations for siting affordable housing, permanent supportive housing, and site selection.
Considerations for Siting Affordable Housing
- Include publicly- and privately-owned parcels
- Parcels where improvement values are low compared to land values
- Close proximity to public resources, major streets, public transit, future development
- Low flood risk
- Parcels where improvement values are low or very low compared to land values
- May necessitate environmental remediation but close to points of interest
- Periphery of medium- to high-density residential neighborhood
- Not currently zoned for redevelopment
- Parcels where improvement values are low compared to land values
- Include known Superfund or contaminated sites
- Deeply embedded in an industrial area otherwise unlikely to be redeveloped for affordable housing
- Interstitial space of existing developments
- Power line rights-of-way
- Irregularly-shaped parcel not conducive to development
Considerations for Siting Permanent Supportive Housing
- Near existing and future public transportation
- Good pedestrian and bike access (sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails)
- Near major streets and intersections
- Vehicular access
- Employment opportunities
- Commercial and retail
- Potential of adjacent or nearby parcels to develop in the future
- Public services
- Public health and medical facilities
- Religious institutions
- Public resources like schools and parks in cases of family or youth supportive housing
- Shape and proportions of site conducive to development
- Dead-ends and cul-de-sacs
- Direct exposure to major thoroughfares and vehicular intersections
- Resistance from adjacent residents
- Environmental nuisances (power lines, contaminated sites, and noxious smells)
- High flood risk
Publicly owned parcels, vacant parcels, and underutilized private parcels were considered potential opportunities for landbanking related to affordable housing and permanent supportive housing.
Publicly owned parcels should be considered only if they are underutilized (e.g., as surface parking) or their current uses are obsolete.
Single parcels or combinations of adjacent parcels in these categories totaling more than one acre in size prove most viable for future housing. Clusters are prioritized based on location (i.e. whether a cluster is in a residential or industrial area), proportion of public versus private land, and proximity to public resources such as schools and transit, among other factors.
A finer-grained desktop analysis of high-priority clusters reinforces whether specific parcels are appropriate for housing. A combination of LA County Assessor data, Google Earth and Street View imagery, and online searches answer questions such as:
- Is there recent construction on the site, or are there known development plans?
- Is there known contamination or hazardous waste?
Parcels that remain viable for housing then undergo an on-site analysis to confirm findings:
- What signs indicate that the site is vacant or underutilized?
- Does the site seem suitable for future development?
- Is the site near public transit, commercial areas, and public resources?
- Do the shape and proportions of the site make it viable?
Final Opportunity Sites
The remaining parcels that aggregate to one or more acres in size are the final opportunity sites to be considered for future affordable and permanent supportive housing. Cities and site tenants can be engaged to determine feasibility, and then a site acquisition plan can be developed.
Case Study: Affordable Housing, Eugene, OR
In Eugene, Oregon, the city set up the Land Acquisition for Affordable Housing program to increase the supply of sites for affordable housing development.
Eugene found that their nonprofit housing development partners were disproportionately proposing projects in lower cost parts of town, in part because they could not obtain sites in higher cost neighborhoods. The land bank provides staffing for proactive site search and selection including engaging with communities to identify appropriate locations in all neighborhoods. The program uses city financing to purchase targeted sites. Once the land bank controls a site, it solicits and evaluates development proposals from affordable housing developers. Selected developers have an opportunity to purchase the site and gain access to housing subsidies through the city’s existing programs. The goal is to create a steady pipeline of affordable housing in high opportunity locations throughout the city.